Voice-tech: The talk of the 2016 holiday season
For the 2014 holiday season, I made a list of useful new consumer health tech for this blog that included Amazon Echo, just introduced for $100 (with Amazon Prime). I thought this reasonably priced smart home device with voice-recognition technology had great potential for my elderly mother and a family member with a disability, especially since no smartphone or keyboard was required. It seemed this hands-free device for the home had made ambient technology accessible for mass adoption.
We had a lively family discussion during the 2014 holidays with every generation weighing in on the various new technologies. There were concerns about privacy with Amazon’s AI voice assistant Alexa, who was always ‘listening’.Fast forward, and voice-tech is the talk of the 2016 holiday season. Click To Tweet
This season, Amazon is already on its second generation of a much smaller Amazon Echo – Dot. With multiple Dots, you can economically add Alexa functionality to multiple rooms in the home. Google is also expanding its stake in the smart home market with the Google Home assistant, powered by the ‘Ok Google’ AI.Both Amazon and Google are vying to be 'the' smart hardware for your Home-as-a-Platform. Click To Tweet
For many, the choice of a smart home device depends on a buyer’s existing devices and use of a platform. But loyalty to a platform matters less to an aging population who may be interested in a particular feature and ease of functionality.
Is this the hardware Apple should have built?
Amazon’s Echo products have been an interesting evolution. The toddler in the next generation of AI is still stumbling to get the respect of the super tech savvy crowd, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
My esteemed colleague Michael Hiltzik went to great lengths to explain why the Amazon Echo — one of the hottest consumer products of the year — isn’t all it’s cracked up to be …
He’s right. And he’s wrong.
First, what you need to know about Mike is that, unlike me, he tends to be an early adopter. If there’s a shiny new electronic toy to be played with, chances are he’s got it.
But I can say this: I got an Echo a couple of weeks ago and it’s awesome. – David Lazarus, LA Times
The potential of this simple tech, even for one function – playing a music playlist or providing accessibility for a disabled person, makes it worth it for some folks, especially at the holiday price of $39.99 for the Dot. Amazon’s business model also appears to be suited to this type of tech. Amazon makes money on whatever you buy through its platform, so it doesn’t depend heavily on advertising as a middleman. You can purchase directly through Amazon and have products or services delivered seamlessly. By the way, Amazon also reports commercial drone delivery has taken its first step.Would Steve Jobs would have priced such a sleek device so handsomely or accessibly? Click To Tweet
What ‘skills’ will healthcare develop for Amazon Alexa?
As I mentioned, the ease of voice-activated ambient tech offers many possibilities for the elderly and disabled. But anyone would benefit from less time on a screen, less keyboard typing, and less computer fatigue. What is more convenient than asking a question and getting an immediate answer?
Amazon’s Alexa may not have all the answers yet, but its learning system depends on building ‘skills’. Amazon calls its Alexa apps ‘skills’. I like the branding of skills. It sets the tone of one thing building upon another.
While thousands of Alexa skills have been developed, there are only a few in healthcare. Alexa’s list of commands includes making an appointment with a doctor.
Currently, some of the Alexa skills for healthcare include:
- Mount Sinai, for finding physicians linked to the Mount Sinai Health Partners program,
- Boston Children’s Hospital Kids MD for children’s fever and medication advice,
- Zika Facts and HealthBuddy for disease-specific information,
- Marvee care companion for aging family members,
- Health Care Genius for healthcare terminology like “What’s a deductible?”
What really amazed me as a healthcare technologist is just how easy it is to develop new skills (apps) for Alexa, and what the impact of this new app technology could be on healthcare as a whole. To say it’s revolutionary is truly an understatement. – Colin Rhodes, Healthcare CIO/CTO
There are also over 150 Alexa skills developed for Health & Fitness including using voice to check on Fitbit progress. It is interesting to note that Fitbit enjoys 49 or more percent of wearables adoption by those 45 and older according to Rock Health’s 2016 consumer survey on digital health. The survey found that “of those who bought their wearable, a third did so in the last three months and two thirds made the purchase in the last six months.”
People would be more inclined to use wearables and track their health if they knew their physician was using that information and it directly impacted their clinical care. – John Brownstein, Chief Innovation Officer, Boston Children’s Hospital
Consumer Intelligence Research Reports says more than 5 million Amazon Echo products have been sold in the last two years ahead of the 2016 holiday season. We can expect to hear Alexa roar in 2017.
Voice-recognition technology is a more human, person-centered and contextually personalized way to exchange data. Seamless, frictionless exchange of data is the goal of interoperability and what the patient/consumer wants. What healthcare ‘skills’ can you imagine for Amazon’s Alexa or other AI voice assistants for the home? Can you see a future for Alexa on FHIR?What amazed me as a healthcare technologist is just how easy it is to develop Alexa skills Click To Tweet
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