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How one hospital is incorporating voice assistants into care delivery

March 3, 2020

    How is Baker Medical Center using Alexa?

    Baker Medical Center (pseudonym) piloted a program that put voice assistants in patient rooms so that patients could interact with nurses and control their entertainment hands free. The voice assistants run on an Alexa-powered platform that routes requests directly to the correct nurse's phone, and is also compatible with Google Home.

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    Early use cases for in-room Alexa's were centered on entertainment control. The initial goal was to enable patients to adjust the music or TV channel, as well as volume, hands-free without calling for a nurse to assist them. Later uses involved asking Alexa to play a fall prevention video, instead of having patients shuffle through to the correct channel to set it up themselves. The hospital is also working with its pharmacy department to use Alexa to send prescriptions for a few common medications and have her recite the dosage amount, frequency, and common side effects to patients.

    Baker Medical Center is creating consistent information to patients to help ensure standardized care pathways. This could potentially free up time for nurses and even physicians, in turn making sure they can all practice top of license, aligning with the hospital's strategic goal to create more capacity. In the future the hospital would like to further embed the technology into patients' EHRs, so that Alexa may continue to provide exact information quickly.

    What could Alexa implementation in hospitals mean for the future?

    Given the popularity of voice assistants, there's a good chance that your health system will consider investing in this technology for patient rooms or in programs that will work on consumers' home devices. It may behoove you to think about how you can piggyback on this potential investment, or help justify the cost of investment, by exploring opportunities to use voice assistants to support your strategic goals.

    This is a technology that an increasing number of patients are already familiar with and have in their homes, unlike a specific app, portal, or RPM technology that you have to teach patients how to operate if you want them to be used. Incorporating Alexa technology into your strategy can mean little to no added expense, plus it is HIPAA-compliant.

    How has Alexa been used to support strategic goals?

    Alexa and other voice assistants can support a variety of health system goals, most commonly by communicating with patients via smart speakers in their homes. For example, this technology can help:

    • Engage patients in their care: Applications involve communicating recovery progress after surgery back to providers and providing patients with answers about basic health conditions.

    • Drive consumer loyalty: Voice assistants used for scheduling same day urgent care appointments and helping consumers find accessible care locally.

    • Improve care outcomes: Applications include monitoring high-risk patients, such as the elderly or disabled, and checking the status of a home delivery for a prescription. Alexa can even assist with reading blood pressure results, compare levels throughout the day, calculate a daily average, and remind patients to take their blood pressure at home via Amazon's partnership with Omron Healthcare.

    • Improve patient experience: One hospital system in the mid-Atlantic wanted to make sure its patients never felt ignored, confused, or lonely. The system collaborated with IBM to create speakers with cognitive computing and natural language capabilities, and the ability to easily access relevant hospital data to improve the inpatient experience. Patients can ask a question—such as, "When are visiting hours today?"—or verbalize a command, and the speakers will pick up the vocal cues and respond accordingly. This allows patients to operate lights, raise and lower window blinds, ask questions about hospital facilities, get background information on their physician, and take surveys—without repeatedly pushing a call button and waiting for a nurse to respond. In their trial, the hospital system found the technology empowered patients to take greater control of their experience.

    Whether you are interested in using voice-assistant technology in care management, care delivery, or patient experience, there are a number of ways that this technology can support health system strategy. The verdict may still out on the best, most useful ways to implement voice assistants, but it's clear that as this technology continues to be iterated upon, its use cases in health care will continue to emerge.


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