Amazon Alexa has become a powerful and useful technology in the consumer space. This digital assistant allows consumers...
to access information quickly or execute basic tasks with a voice command, whether at home or on the move. However, voice assistants like Alexa have not been widely adopted in the enterprise or in healthcare. Compliance concerns and regulations like HIPAA have become a significant blocker for virtual assistants entering the hospital scene, but there are potential uses for Alexa in healthcare that don't require HIPAA compliance.
Many patients who have been admitted to a hospital for more than a day ask for assistance from nurses who are their main point of contact. However, these single points of contact may not always be available and that can be frustrating for patients. Requests include checking what meals are available or who's on call. Hospitals like Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center addressed such requests by deploying voice assistant technologies like Alexa, allowing them to provide patients a new way and convenient way to get assistance and information while staying HIPAA-compliant and improving their patient satisfaction.
With Amazon Alexa for Business, a hospital can roll out their own digital voice assistant and manage the different smart speakers that allow users to interact with the system. Out of the box functionality includes basic capabilities around answering requests for weather information, news and other general details. Hospitals can use Alexa in healthcare to extend that functionality and connect the voice technology to their internal systems to deliver hospital room-specific services. With this setup a patient can make requests such as, "Alexa please turn off the lights in my room," or, "Alexa, page my nurse please." While most of these commands are conveniences, they play a significant role in improving patient satisfaction scores, especially for Medicare patients who respond to HCAHPS surveys that are published and used by CMS.
Two concerns that remain top of mind for IT when considering digital voice technology deployments are the management and support of the hardware and the added traffic they introduce. Amazon seems to meet the requirements around the enterprise tools to manage the devices and delivers a solid platform that meets the demands from IT, enabling several uses for Alexa in healthcare.
1. Out of the box enterprise integration
Alexa for Business has many popular integrations among enterprise users. Out of the box, the platform allows hospital users to interact with their email and calendars and supports the purchase of office supplies via voice commands. The platform also offers a way for end users to initiate audio and video calls by integrating with AV conferencing systems. When used this way, Alexa does not interact with any patient data and offers useful capabilities without the need for HIPAA compliance.
2. Expendability to deliver custom skills for patients
Voice assistants can also be used in hospital patient rooms. While out of the box Amazon Alexa won't be able to deliver any functionality related to the hospital, the platform allows hospital IT to extend its functionality and connect to different hospital applications and services. The process is to create a skill that will allow Alexa to interact with additional systems. An example would be to create an Alexa skill that allows a patient to access the hospital's phone directory. Another use for Alexa in healthcare would be to connect to the dietary system for details on daily meals.
3. Voice assistant device management tools
Since using voice assistant devices within a hospital requires the deployment of IoT or smart speakers in large numbers and configure them with the Wi-Fi, hospital IT will look for ways to manage tools that assist in the deployment process. This is important to IT as they are required not only to find ways to easily deploy devices and configure them, but also monitor them for proper functionality. Traditional mobile device management tools are not capable of managing these new types of IoT devices; however, a new generation of voice assistant device management tools can assist in the deployment and management of smart speakers. Voice assistant device management tools offer a single management console that manages and support voice assistant devices like the Echo or Echo Dot.
4. Support for multiple hardware options
Currently, only a few Amazon Echo devices are supported when a hospital rolls out Alexa for Business. However, there are ways to interact with Alexa using other vendor options and software tools. There are several sizes and functionality available in the Amazon Echo suite; some have built-in touchscreens that can display additional information visually, while others like the Echo Dot are compact and only offer audio features.
The use of Alexa in healthcare will continue to gain momentum as more patients use this technology at home. The convenience it brings to its users from simply speaking commands or questions that the device is able to understand and respond to is valuable. Within a hospital room, this convenience will be refreshing and helpful for patients. While HIPAA won't be an issue for hospitals looking to deploy the technology for non-healthcare-related requests, ensuring the devices are secure is still a critical subject to cover when it comes to using the devices across the hospital network.