The Amazon Echo – Bringing Sci Fi Reality to Healthcare

My initial impression of the Amazon Echo was that this is simply a Bluetooth speaker that looks like a portable humidifier with a little bit of artificial intelligence. The next thing I discovered is that the Echo always needs to be plugged in for it to work. But then, after playing around with it, I realized that the Amazon Echo is actually quite impressive.

The Echo introduces the handy Alexa function. The initial conversations with Alexa are very simple. You can ask about the weather, the time, sports results, or the latest news. But with time, I learned that Alexa could even read an audio book; tell me about the local businesses; and where to go for a Thai dinner.

The other benefit of Echo its accessibility and quality. It comes with a remote control or you may control it via your mobile device after downloading the Amazon echo app. The bottom part of the Echo has a 360-degree speaker that surprisingly fills the entire room with sound. Even at a distance of 9-10 feet Alexa can pick up commands.

Because of the sophisticated voice activated system, the Echo has great potential for use by patients in a healthcare setting. The main use case that I see is in the hospital’s patient room. Let’s think of a scenario where we have a 50-year-old patient in the hospital that had just gone through a surgery procedure and is expected to be in the hospital for two days. Echo can be a great device to allow personalization such as: integration to the patient’s Spotify music, control of the room temperature and blinds, the ability to order an Uber for the patient’s family, as well as many other features of a smart home. The goal will be to bring the technology of a smart home into a patient’s room to enhance the patient’s experience away from home.

From a clinical perspective, the Echo can assist the medical provider by reciting the medical education transcribed by the doctor to the patient, such as: the side effects of a prescription drug that the patient should expect for the next month after surgery. If we go back to the example of the patient who is recovering from surgery and has been prescribed drugs, the Echo can either be a replacement or an integrated device for the nurse call system where the patient can ask for pain medication through Echo. In addition, patients can also order their meals through the device if it is integrated with the dietary system in the hospital. As such, the voice-activated system would clearly be a great two-way communication tool for the patient who may not be able to move from their bed with ease.

As healthcare is moving towards the goal of creating the best patient experience possible, we have to start integrating consumer products with the strategy of providing a hotel-like experience in an inpatient room. The integration of smart room technology and voice activation communication has become an invaluable part of luxury hotels, and likewise, we must attempt to replicate that same kind of technology and convenience in hospitals.   I have personally witnessed a lot of success by international hospitals incorporating the hotel experience into their culture to improve patient experience. Similarly, I believe that hospitals in the US must start to adjust our strategy in order to meet the expectation of today’s consumer-patients.

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About the author

David Chou

David Chou

David Chou is the Vice President / Chief Information & Digital Officer for Children’s Mercy Kansas City. Children’s Mercy is the only free-standing children's hospital between St. Louis and Denver and provide comprehensive care for patients from birth to 21. They are consistently ranked among the leading children's hospitals in the nation and were the first hospital in Missouri or Kansas to earn the prestigious Magnet designation for excellence in patient care from the American Nurses Credentialing Center

Prior to Children’s Mercy David held the CIO position at University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state’s only academic health science center. David also served as senior director of IT operations at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and CIO at AHMC Healthcare in California. His work has been recognized by several publications, and he has been interviewed by a number of media outlets. David is also one of the most mentioned CIOs on social media, and is an active member of both CHIME and HIMSS. Subscribe to David's latest CXO Scene posts here and follow me at Twitter
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3 Comments

  • Interesting possibilities. Along the same line, a patient could have a pad on a telescoping arm (like the TV’s some get now) that doubles as a TV, all of the same functions mentioned above, patient care ‘calendar’ / agenda, web access and more! It could even have a direct link to their account in the system’s patient portal. But hey – the security would have to be superb to avoid problems like ransomware.

    Ron

  • David

    You bring up some very interesting ideas about the possibilities behind the Echo. I have had one in my home for about six months and haven’t really taken advantage of its capabilities. It has been more of a parlor trick for guests and a source of entertainment for my five year old, who likes for it to tell him jokes and play songs for him. But I have always seen the potential for so much more.

    If Amazon or third parties are able to find commercial or medical applications for it that would very much change the value of the device.

    From a privacy standpoint it does somewhat concern me that amazon has a window into my home. I could also see security and privacy being an issue with use of the device commercially.

  • Security and Privacy is always a concern and showstopper in healthcare. My view is that sometimes we may have to give up a little privacy to gain the benefits. I wonder if the newer generations are as concerned about privacy since they grew up living in a social tech world. Time will tell on this matter.

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