Voice Technology and your health in 2020

With the recent news that Apple, Google and Amazon are to make their smart home devices compatible with each other, it looks like the need for industry protocol across Voice technology is, at last, being addressed. Very soon, Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant et al will be talking to each other across your hallway, ordering your Uber, finding your friends and eating your dinner. If you were in any doubt that Voice was dragging its heels behind almost every other technology you can think of, doubt no more. Good things are coming and today we’re exploring voice technology and your health in 2020.

It’s 9 years since Siri was introduced to us, and five since Amazon gave us the Echo and its virtual assistant, Alexa. But as we all know, a year is a long time in tech. Today, half of us perform search with our voices, and not only in the home. From its advances into the banking and financial services sector, to its innovative applications in retail and its growing ubiquity across all manner of brand services, Voice is looking buoyant. Yet, there’s one sector in which it’s surpassing all others – Healthcare

The healthcare sector today is vast, complex, and very different from days of yore. A growing and ageing population, their growing demands, an increase in chronic disease and the availability of new and emerging technologies mean a radically new healthcare landscape is being carved. But this new landscape isn’t without its challenges. Rising costs, compliance requirements and consumer demands mean that solutions need to bring more than the promise of better health to the table. 

Yet the potential of voice in this space goes way beyond dispensing sleep meditations and counting steps. Serving as a link between healthcare providers and their patients, providing remote diagnostics and treatments, and cutting costs, Voice technology can bring real value to the organisations and individuals that need it the most.

Voice and Privacy in Healthcare

Do a quick search on Amazon for Alexa skills in health and fitness and you’ll get over 1,000 results; from instructions on how to deliver life-saving CPR, to guided meditations to help deal with stress; and pregnancy advice to virtual nurses, healthcare and advice dispensed via the soothing voice in the corner of your room is a fact of life. But these consumer-focused apps don’t easily convert to use of the technology in the healthcare sector, a place where access to highly sensitive, personal patient data is essential – and governed by strict regulatory compliance HIPAA rules. Last April however, Amazon announced its move to build and launch HIPAA-compliant Alexa skills, bringing Voice to healthcare in ways that are already making a big difference to thousands of lives and laying the foundations for the rollout of secure communications across a healthcare sector hungry for innovation.

The race is on …

As such, the doors have swung wide open and the Voice titans have begun making big strides across the healthcare landscape. At the front of the pack, Amazon; their move into the healthcare space stealthy, focused and ambitious. From its covert team of healthcare virtuosos to the higher-profile appointments of notable healthcare professionals to its move into medical retail, there’s no doubt about their vision and commitment. Apple hasn’t been shy about coming forward to lay their plans on the table either, with Tim Cook saying this time last year that their greatest contribution as a company would be to healthcare. In September, when internal company documents were leaked uncovering plans for Siri upgrades – earmarked for release by next year and including enhanced healthcare functionality with “the ability to have a back-and-forth conversation about health problems.” –  that move we mentioned earlier to ensure compatibility across brands and devices starts to make sense. If these guys as serious as they seem to be, we’re in for big healthcare innovations that’ll knock the spots off anything we’ve seen so far. 

While use cases are still in their infancy, Voice in healthcare delivers innumerable benefits to professionals and patients – particularly the elderly, disabled, and those living with chronic disease or dwelling in remote, hard to reach/travel from areas. The most significant use cases of voice technology include disease management and patient engagement (elements such as symptoms tracking and medication dosing and adherence), disease diagnosis, and healthcare in the home.  If you were cynical about Voice and what it’s got to offer, let us assuage your angst – the voice-healthcare space is about to get very very interesting indeed… 

Voice for Diagnoses

Hey, how are your vocal biomarkers today? If you’re not sure, we know someone that can help … Around 18 months ago, Amazon released its patent for ‘Voice-based determination of physical and emotional characteristics of users’, or to put it more simply, voice technology that comes with the rather extraordinary ability to diagnose illness and disease just by ‘listening’ to their voice. The ability to detect emotions in a voice sounds a bit Ex-Machina, I know, but it’s here, and it’s exciting. Similar to the way that we can all detect changes in someone’s voice and make a good guess as to how they’re feeling, AI-based algorithms are already doing the same and it’s all down to, yep, you guessed, the vocal biomarker – patterns in our voices, such as tone, volume, pitch, rate etc, and which can identify a range of health conditions. The benefits are myriad, rippling out way beyond a straightforward diagnosis – early detection, timely intervention and treatment, faster recovery times and minimised financial and resource burdens on healthcare providers. Here’s our pick of the best in the space:

  • Calling themselves, “the fastest evolving robust emotion AI engine in Voice”, Los Angeles-based Behavioral Signals provides technology that can identify the onset of mental health issues through voice analysis. Part of the emerging Emotion-AI sector, their platform analyses the emotions within an individual’s voice – without looking at the context of the conversation, or what’s being said. This means that the platform can operate in the healthcare space with anonymous data, making timely diagnoses, and at the whilst protecting the privacy of the patient. The company have also been in the process of developing a “social robot” which can identify, via voice, when homecare patients are feeling low, connecting them with family and friends and providing distractions to alleviate low moods.
  • Rapid identification of cardiac arrest is critical for positive outcomes – every minute that passes can mean the difference between life and death. Good job then that Danish startup Corti’s Emotion AI platform works by listening to emergency calls, analysing voice data in real-time and providing emergency call-centre staff with a fast, accurate diagnosis so they can decide what needs to happen next. As well as providing diagnoses, Corti also acts as a kind of wing-man for staff during the call, prompting them to ask certain questions so that it can make recommendations based on the analysis of the answers. Emergency staff can then dispatch ambulance staff to deliver life-saving treatment or provide over-the-phone instructions for administering CPR. 
  • One of our favourites, Toronto-based Winterlight Labs uses AI and voice technology to detect and monitor Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia and other cognitive diseases. Gleaning over 500 elements from an individuals voice, the platform then analyses them to construct disease-specific biomarkers, allowing for early diagnoses and treatment. Remarkably, the software can also examine cognitive progression and the way in which patients react to varying treatments so that the optimum treatment can be delivered. Currently working on developing capabilities to diagnose schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis, the startup is also planning to add new languages to the platform. Watch this space!

Voice for Patient Engagement & Disease Management

Chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide; this year, it will be responsible for 73% of all deaths worldwide, placing huge financial pressures on diminishing resources and increasing the workload on already struggling healthcare professionals. As such, the most pressing use-case for voice right now is patient engagement for symptom-tracking for those living with chronic illness. And with nearly 52% of us claiming we’d like to use Voice assistants to support our healthcare, it’s also why Amazon has been exploring how voice technology can help to support these patients beyond the four walls of the doctor’s surgery, better managing their illness and easing pressure on both themselves and that of their healthcare providers. Voice technology in this space – the patient’s home – is used to keep patients engaged with their healthcare regime between visits to or from their providers. 

  • Did a patient collect their prescription? Are they adhering to their care schedule? Are they sticking to the prescription schedule? Boston-based Orbita provides virtual health assistants in patient homes to “engage, inform, and empower them to manage their health through personalised patient education and guidance” – with extremely positive results. Virtual assistants like Orbita can deliver real value to patients while at the same time gathering important data to support care plan adherence: like insights into how patients communicate the side effects of particular medications, understanding how patients deal with certain medical conditions over the long term, and the ability to provide face-to-face intervention and support when needed – revolutionary capabilities that are changing how care is managed, resourced and planned. 
  • The non-adherence rate for the care plans of many chronic diseases is around 50%. Surprising, right? What’s even more surprising is that this costs the US department of health between $100 and $300 billion dollars every year. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a lot; it also seems like money that could be diverted elsewhere to do a better job somewhere else. “Bringing healthcare home”, CardioCube provides the technology that goes some way to remedying the non-adherence problem, reminding homecare patients living with heart disease to take control of their health through voice. CardioCube technology reminds users to take and provides the platform to request them, it also provides tailored information better disease management, arranges appointments and facilitates ‘home visits’ via which healthcare providers can check in remotely and perform their ‘visit’.

Voice for the Elderly & Disabled

The home care market is predicted to grow at around 10% between now and 2024 meaning the demands of an ageing population will continue to drive technology-based home care solutions, helping an ageing population to live healthy, independent lives. Because voice is such a natural way for individuals to interact with technology and makes no physical demands from users (as opposed to the mobility, vision etc needed to use our smartphones, for example), it’s uniquely placed to offer a truly valuable tool for elderly patients who are either unable – or reluctant to –  travel to their healthcare provider to receive the care they need:

  • A voice-powered solution created to solve a very real challenge for in-facility healthcare settings in which patients struggle to communicate their needs with caregivers, Orbita comes up trumps again with OrbitaASSIST enabling patients to make healthcare-related requests, taking the complexity out of simple tasks that can often be frustrating, time-consuming and resulting in dead-ends. When a patient makes a request – such as information on medications management, appointments keeping or daily activities schedules, OrbitaASSSIT takes that information, processes and prioritises it when it’s finally (and quickly!) routed to the appropriate team who will decide what the best action is. The results speak for themselves; early identification of critical care needs and dramatically reduced response times to calls for help and information have been reduced by as much as 70% across user groups. 
  • US-based Libertana has utilised Alexa to enable patients at home to check their daily schedule, communicate with caregivers, arrange appointments, and get reminders about medications and other health-related tasks; essentially providing a link between patients and their care providers whilst allowing them to live independent lives.
  • Mabu is an AI-powered virtual assistant that, over time, learns about a patient’s personality, interests, and healthcare challenges and enabling it to create ‘conversations’ tailored to each individual patient – alleviating loneliness, providing timely healthcare advice and once more supporting patients to live at home and maintain a healthy, independent life. 

Conclusion

In healthcare, voice technology has found a sector ripe with potential for future innovation that will likely make an exponential impact. Healthcare organisations the world over struggle with the exorbitant costs that go hand-in-hand with managing the health of a global population of 7 billion individuals, all with unique healthcare needs. And yet, this move to healthcare is likely to raise as many questions as it answers – we’ve still got some way to go, but isn’t that the case with all new technologies? While it’s one thing to have Alexa reading the football results, or finding a recipe, allowing our voice buddies access to highly sensitive, personal information that’s crucial to deliver effective, targeted healthcare is an entirely different ballgame. We all need to understand how our data is being used, by whom, and just how secure it is before we’re in that place where we’re all comfortable with our new voice overlords. If you’re interested in voice in healthcare, and what the lay of the land looks like today, you can find out more about Amazon’s healthcare skills here. If you’d like to find out more about how Waracle and our dedicated voice team can help you take your healthcare idea to fruition, let’s get the conversation started!


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