Voice Interactions – A Channel to Better Health Outcomes

Feb 25, 2019

This blog was first published September 29, 2017 on the HCL Technologies blog.

 

In today’s interconnected world, people increasingly find themselves extremely busy, always ‘on’, and accessible around the clock. Here, health and wellness often take a backseat. A sedentary lifestyle and poor food habits expectedly lead to a number of chronic conditions. One of the biggest challenges to living a healthier life is finding motivation. When it comes to living with chronic conditions such as diabetes, improper lifestyle management can have serious implications on the patients’ health.

A number of digital technologies and tools exist, to help patients manage their lifestyles and conditions, including mobile apps for tracking fitness, nutrition, and medication. Unfortunately, a lot of patients remain unaware of such tools and those who have tried them usually abandon them after a while.

Picture this conversation instead:

“Alexa, give me my health update”

“Good morning Linda. Seems like you slept well last night. Your glucose level is 6.1, which is well within your set target. Your weight has been consistent around 160lbs. You are doing a great job!”

“Thank you. What’s my schedule for today?”

“Today is a perfect day for a brisk 30-minute walk. After your walk and your usual breakfast, you need to take a 500mg dose of Metformin. Then, you have an appointment to take your cat to the vet at 10 AM. Should I schedule a Lyft at 9:30 AM?”

“Yes, please”

“Done! I have sent a text confirmation with the cab details. What else can I help you with?”

“Nothing at the moment. Thanks!”

Later, at 8 AM:

“It’s time to take your 500mg dose of Metformin. Please take it. I also noticed you’re running low on your medication. Would you like me to refill your prescription from your preferred pharmacy?”

“Yes, please.”

“Done. You should receive a text message shortly confirming the order. Is there anything else I can help you with?

“Can you recommend a meal for lunch today?”

“Considering your carb intake goals, I suggest you have a Kale salad with no dressing from your usual lunch place? Would you like me to place an order?”

“Okay.”

“The salad will arrive at 12 o’clock. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No Thanks! Bye”

 “OK! Have a great day!”

This conversation, between a type 2 diabetes patient and a smart voice assistant, illustrates what may become the simplest, most effective way to manage health.

 

A Voice that Heals

More often than not, patients forget or lack the motivation to follow a care plan that requires frequent monitoring and documentation. For many diseases that can be self-managed, the tools that use traditional channels, such as web/mobile/text, fail to reach high adoption rates because using them is usually a complicated and cumbersome experience.

In this context, Voice, as a channel of communication, is positioned to be a game changer. Voice technology uses one of the most natural and least disruptive mediums of communication, the human voice. By its very nature, it reduces the friction between patients and digital technologies and removes barriers to long-term adherence. No wonder then that by 2019, Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs) will have changed the way users interact with devices— a clear indication that voice-enabled gadgets will eventually become an integral part of our lives. Moreover, as one of the most important trends of 2016, by 2019 20% of all user interactions with smartphones will take place through Voice as a channel, and 40 million homes will use a voice-activated digital assistant by 2021.

Newly-diagnosed, type-2-diabetes patients are often overwhelmed and stressed about their condition. They typically see physicians just once in three months and could really benefit from coaching and assistance in between. Voice Assistants can step in and expertly bridge the gap, playing the role of a motivational health coach or buddy. Voice Assistants can help keep meticulous track of episodes, symptoms, and other biological indicators of health. By connecting to a broader ecosystem, they can schedule appointments with the patient’s health care provider (HCP), fill prescriptions, record and send reports, book a cab, and even order food. Voice converted to text can also decipher the tone and timbre of the speaker’s voice to draw insights on their mood or stress-levels, leading to more appropriate responses.

Global tech leaders have already invested heavily in Voice technology, with a slew of products designed to assist in daily life activities. Amazon with Alexa, Apple with Siri, Microsoft with Cortana, and Google with Google Assistant, are among the most popular virtual personal assistants in the market today. As natural language processing (NLP) capabilities grow more sophisticated, human-to-machine communication has become more fluid and intuitive.

Voice Assistants may just be the key to solving the challenge of patient non-compliance. Research estimates that between 20% and 50% of patients do not comply with drug therapy. In the US alone, the cost of skipping all that medication adds up to between USD 100 billion and 300 billion, annually. Voice Assistants could be a transformative and highly effective way to address these challenges by providing patients with the simplest way to manage their lifestyle, nutrition, and medication. The key to success will be designing patient assistants that can build relationships with patients and win their trust.

 

Helping HCPs Become More Efficient

As “value based healthcare” slowly replaces the “fee for service” model, better patient health outcomes will undoubtedly help HCPs. Studies show that doctors spend an average 1.7 hours per shift with patients, 5.2 hours on administrative tasks. Voice-enabled devices can contribute significantly here by providing instant answers to questions on drug compositions, side effects, possible allergies, and much more.

Can smart Voice Assistants then free up clinicians to manage their time better and spend more quality time with patients? Can drug and device companies leverage Voice Assistants to educate physicians without sales representatives?

 

 

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