In past posts, we’ve talked generally about the role of voice in healthcare. This post will be more specific. It will follow the journey of a patient who, at various points, requires information and some level of interaction with people and institutions in her healthcare sphere. This patient is living in the hopefully not-too-distance future when voice assistants play a larger role in healthcare.
Accessibility is voice’s most important role
As we’ve noted, accessibility is the most important benefit voice brings to healthcare or any other service. As a means of interface, voice is fast, readily available, especially for people with disabilities, and easily accessible.
Prevention is the best medicine
Simple things like eating right and exercising are the cornerstones of healthy living. Practicing prevention is also a good way to reduce medical costs and the burden on the healthcare system. So how can voice help?
Meet Alice. She is a fifty-four-year-old married empty nester. She likes to take a walk every morning, and she tracks her treks on her fitness device that is connected to a daily living voice assistant. Since high blood pressure runs in her family, she also uses a home blood pressure cuff to check hers on a regular basis.
When she eats, she tells her voice assistant what she’s had. When she’s stumped for what to make, she asks for menu ideas for a low-salt, low-fat meal.
On a weekly basis, the voice assistant asks Alice if she would like a report of her activities, the statistics she's captured, and the calories she's eaten. With this information, Alice is more aware of her habits and her health and can make adjustments as necessary.
Self-diagnosis can save a trip to the doctor
Alice likes to spend time in her yard. On Saturday, she planted flowers and tomatoes. When she came in and changed out her gardening clothing, she discovered a tick on her leg.
By querying a voice application that is populated with information from a reputable source, such as the Mayo Clinic or the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Alice learns her best course of action. Since she removed the tick hours after being bitten, she is confident that she will be okay. Still, she knows the symptoms of infection and knows she will only need to contact her doctor if they arise. This simple interaction with her voice assistant saved her time and the expense of a doctor visit. It saved the doctor time as well, thus reducing the healthcare burden for all involved.
From symptoms to diagnosis to treatment
Recently, Alice has noticed that her joints have gotten stiff and swollen. It has made typing difficult. Like most people, she’ll want to consult the internet for possible causes of this problem. She asks her voice assistant for help. She answers questions posed to her, describes her symptoms, and learns it might be rheumatoid arthritis. Her voice assistant also explains what causes rheumatoid arthritis and suggests she see her doctor.
After examining Alice, her doctor confirms the diagnosis and prescribes a treatment for her.
Checking on insurance coverage
Alice’s health insurance company has a voice assistant that allows its subscribers to learn what their benefits are regarding the medications they have been prescribed. Alice answers a few questions and finds that she is covered for her drug, thus eliminating a common barrier to a person getting on treatment: dealing with authorizations. The insurance company’s voice assistant is also tied to her mail-order pharmacy. During the same interactioin in which Alice has determined her eligibility, she is also able to order a three-month supply of her treatment.
Understanding how to administer treatment
Alice’s medicine is a drug that is taken subcutaneously. That means she injects it right below her skin. This type of administration may take some practice. With her video-enabled device, she uses a voice assistant created by the manufacturer of her treatment to watch a video on how to do the injection. Since she has washed her hands and sterilized the area in which she is injecting, she doesn’t want to touch anything other than the injection device until she has completed her treatment. With her voice, she can pause the video while she catches up or rewind it to review anything she is not clear about.
Managing side effects
After taking her medication for a few days, Alice has developed redness around the injection site. She is concerned about it and wants to know if this is normal. Instead of calling her doctor or scheduling an appointment, she asks the voice assistant about this side effect. The voice assistant assures her that this is a known side effect and explains what she can do to alleviate it. It also tells her that if it persists, she should see her doctor. While the voice assistant has Alice's attention, it reviews the other side effects of her medication so that she can be sure she is not having any other adverse reactions to her medication.
Relieved, Alice follows the advice she has just learned and continues to take her medication. Over time, her rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are reduced, and she can get back out and harvest her tomatoes. Now, she is wearing protective clothing to guard against ticks, a good idea she learned a few months earlier when she consulted her voice assistant after her earlier tick discovery.
Today’s healthcare voice assistant reality
Though it was necessary to place Alice’s story in the future, there are voice assistants that do some of these things today. For example, Bouy can help diagnose illness, Melody can help you schedule appointments with local doctors, and Brolly is an insurance concierge, which, though not as capable of performing the scenarios described above, is a step in the right direction.
With the seemingly universal desire to contain the costs of healthcare as well as the need to minimize the burden on the healthcare system, Alice’s story shows how interactions with a voice assistant can minimize physician burden, simplify access to medication, ensure proper administration, calm concerns about side effects, and improve the likelihood of continued adherence. An increase in adherence alone will further reduce the burden on the healthcare system and help people manage their conditions better and longer. That’s a scenario for which we can all voice our approval.