Voice Technology: A Disruptive Force in Healthcare

The following is a guest blog post by Adam Sabloff, CEO of VirtualHealth.

Voice technology is a disruptive force across many industries, and healthcare is no exception. In sync with tools like Amazon Alexa and Echo, voice-user interfaces (VUI) have the potential to take care management to the next level, and the advantages extend far beyond simple conveniences for patients. 

The world of healthcare lives in siloes: patients, family members, doctors, care managers, and health aides, just to name a few. All are inputting valuable health information from disparate systems, devices, and other sources—resulting in a fragmented view of the patient’s health.

A growing number of healthcare innovators, myself included, believe that voice technology is one solution that can help bring all the pieces together.

I joked during a presentation at Amazon’s VOICE Summit, where I addressed the use of voice technology as a patient engagement tool, that I had received a late-night text from my sister-in-law that four flavors of Goldfish crackers – which she knows I love – were being recalled due to salmonella. Imagine if Alexa knew my ordering behavior, understood what I had in my pantry and alerted me immediately to the recall. Now imagine if Alexa also automatically sent me a box to return the bags in question or merely alerted me to throw out my Goldfish stash and arranged for my refund.

When you apply those “what ifs” to healthcare, they take on new, more significant meaning.

Transforming Care Delivery with Greater Insights

Driven by the massive popularity of Alexa and Google Home, VUI is transforming care delivery by empowering providers with greater insights like these and better engaging patients in behavior change that leads to overall better health and outcomes. Implementation of VUI can enhance process across a variety of use cases such as:

  • Prompting patients to schedule appointments and follow through with care plans
  • Reminding patients about medications
  • Guiding patients through procedure preparations
  • Standardizing care information provided before or after treatment.
  • Enable interaction to complete assessments

The sky is the limit when it comes to implementing VUI, but the immediate goal is identifying medium-risk individuals before they become high-risk. What if Jane just had knee surgery but lives in a 4th floor walk-up? Her care team knows that compliance with her discharge plan may prove difficult. Voice technology can be the intuitive, patient-friendly layer that allows data to flow into healthcare systems faster.

Aging at Home

One of the biggest topics being addressed these days is Medicare’s unprecedented push into the home—a shift driven by an aging population that is outgrowing the amount of available senior living beds.

By weaving VUI-based smart home products like Amazon Alexa and Google Home into the fabric of healthcare technology, we can provide a better quality of life to seniors while allowing them to age gracefully in the comfort of their own homes.

Last month,, an Amazon spokesperson told a reporter that the company frequently receives positive feedback from “aging-in-place” customers who use Alexa’s smart-home features as an alternative to going up and down stairs. Amazon’s Echo Show is another product that offers users Tap to Alexa, a screen interface that lets users who are deaf and hard of hearing tap common commands. Microsoft, for its part, recently launched an A.I. for an accessibility program to create inclusive, affordable technology.

While a number of aging in place-focused technologies like these are already available, more still are being explored. We are seeing seniors embrace today’s connected devices to stay safely independent. Everything from blood pressure and glucose monitors to motion sensors are making seniors’ homes safer and smarter. Furthermore, voice devices can serve as the central data hub for all the connected devices in a person’s home. 10 years from now, I anticipate that most seniors who live independently will do so in smart homes equipped with passive devices that continuously monitor vital signs and activities of daily living. I also foresee the use of other monitoring devices, such as food trackers that monitor inventories and replenish when needed.

Addressing Social Determinants

Social factors such as lower income, education level, or high-crime area have been shown to significantly affect health outcomes. Subsequently, social determinants can cause care gaps such as difficulties with transportation, proper nutrition, understanding educational materials on a specific condition, or lack of a support network to help ensure compliance.

According to Lyft, 3.6 million Americans have transportation issues that prevent them from getting to or from doctors’ appointments, and 25% of lower-income patients have missed or rescheduled their appointments due to lack of transportation.

That’s where voice technology can help.

If John Smith needs to go to the doctor and Medicaid will pay for the appointment, John can say, “Alexa, I need to go to the doctor next week.” Alexa might respond, “Your doctor is available at 10 am on Tuesday. I’ll arrange for a Lyft to pick you up.”

It’s the same with nutritional needs. If John says, “I need meals,” Alexa might say, “You’re on a low sodium diet. Your choices for this shipment include asparagus or carrots.” By making solutions easier to reach, VUI can close the care gaps more efficiently and effectively than a care manager reaching out via email or phone.

To be sure, there are a lot of lofty ideas out there when it comes to VUI and healthcare, but it’s not practical to boil the ocean; instead, it’s important to hone in on those aspects of healthcare where it can have the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time.  By engaging patients in their homes – particularly those who make up the most high-risk, complex populations – VUI applications can keep patients out of the doctor’s office or hospital, while still providing strong outcomes.

About Adam Sabloff
Adam Sabloff, CEO and Founder of VirtualHealth, is a nationally recognized leader and executive in the healthcare industry. Adam’s impact in the field can be traced back to the mid-2000s, when he co-created the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Baltimore and discovered a significant gap leaving seniors and the chronically ill without access to essential care delivery and technology.

That insight, coupled with the loss of a loved one to a late-stage diagnosis, led Adam to develop VirtualHealth, the first comprehensive care management solution purpose-built for integrated value-based care. Designed for use by payers and providers, the platform aggregates and normalizes patient data from multiple sources effectively providing healthcare organizations with the tools to provide proactive, quality care.

Adam is a frequent speaker at healthcare and technology events, including the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Parks Associates’ Connected Health Summit, and the Amazon Voice Summit where he discusses topics including the need for advanced health IT solutions to achieve a true “whole-person” view of the patient.