Smart Speakers Entering Home Health Space

It used to be that if you saw someone talking loudly in a room, you’d wonder what’s going on.

But these days people have gotten used to speaking in a disembodied voice that lives in their home. No, it’s not a ghost, it’s an artificial intelligence (AI) that includes systems like Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple Siri. While assistants like Siri started talking on the phone, they moved into the home room. Now they are also moving into the health room.

ChristianaCare, a hospital network in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, has developed an Alexa skill to help patients at home. (Like adding an app to your phone, users can add Alexa skills. According to Amazon, customers can use their voices to use their voices to perform everyday tasks like checking messages, listening to music, playing a game, and more.)

The new Alexa skill, Home Care Coach, is designed as a bridge at home for patients to the doctor’s office. Doctors can enter the patient’s medical plans with information such as exercise and medication. Patients can then ask Alexa questions about their health just like the weather.

“We have a bold vision for the future,” said Janice E. Nevin, President and CEO of ChristianaCare, in a statement. She envisions a world of digital care that can be done from home. “Digital engagement with patients is more important now than ever as it enables them to achieve their health goals, enhance their experiences and shape the future of health care as we know it,” she said.

Last year, Amazon approved the first six HIPAA-compatible apps on its platform. (HIPAA is a 1996 Congressional law that protects people’s health data.) ChristianaCare’s capabilities are built into Express Scripts that customers can use to check the status of their prescriptions. Cigna Health Today, a health and wellness goal management skill; Skills to find urgent concerns or monitor blood sugar; and one from Boston Children’s Hospital to help young patients recover from surgery.

Home Care Coach will use the existing platforms. With more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices, this would mean a massive rollout of the service. “By leveraging this technology, we are creating a new model of care in patients’ homes to achieve the best possible health outcomes,” said Randy Gaboriault. Mr. Gaboriault is Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer at ChristianaCare.

Of course, the program will not be launched all at once. It will be available to a small group this month and will be more available over the next several months.

Sabrina Emms is a science journalist. She began as an intern on a health and science podcast on Philadelphia public radio. Before that, she worked as a researcher studying the way bones are formed. When she is not in the laboratory and at her computer, she is in the moonlight as an assistant to a pig veterinarian and bagel baker.