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September 19, 2017

Amazon's Alexa now offers first aid information from Mayo Clinic

Daily Briefing

    Amazon's virtual assistant, Alexa, can now offer basic first aid advice directly from the Mayo Clinic, thanks to a new "skill" Mayo developed for the device—but the health care system cautions that the resource should not be used in medical emergencies, Joe Carlson writes for the Star Tribune.

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    To create the "skill"—which is Alexa's equivalent to an app on a smartphone—Mayo Clinic Global Business Solutions (MCGBS) used Amazon's self-service Alexa Skills Kit to adapt material from Mayo's medical library. The information is updated in real time as medical practices improve, according to Sandhya Pruthi, associate medical director of MCGBS.

    Skill isn't intended for emergency use

    Mayo emphasized the program is not intended to be used during medical emergencies, or even as a source of medical advice. Rather, skill is advertised as being for "information purposes only" for "dozens of everyday mishaps and other situations."

    For instance, the skill will answer user queries such as "tell me about spider bites" or "how do you treat a cut?" However, if users ask about CPR, Alexa will repeatedly encourage them to call 911—even as it also offers advice on administering CPR.

    As Jay Maxwell, senior director of health information at MCGBS, put it, "We provide health information in a print newsletter, digital newsletter, desktop web, mobile web, Mayo Clinic app. We view this voice interface, specifically the Amazon Alexa application, as basically a new channel to provide that information."

    Duska Anastasijevic, a spokesperson for Mayo, echoed those sentiments: "The voice-enabled experience is a new and growing global innovation, and may be the largest shift in how people interact with devices since the development of smartphones," she said. "Mayo Clinic is among the first health care organizations in the voice space, and will take what it learns to apply it toward other projects that provide trusted information or potentially address a market or consumer need"

    According to the Star Tribune, Amazon is not paying Mayo for the service, and the program doesn't feature advertisements (Carlson, Star Tribune, 9/14).

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