Healthcare Voice Assistants Continue To Gain Ground

This seems to be the year in which voice assistants begin to show up in healthcare environments. I don’t know if we’re going to see them make much of a direct impact on care delivery yet, but if nothing else clinicians and IT departments are getting the chance to feel out their capabilities.

The most recent example I’ve seen of this trend comes from Cedars-Sinai, which is piloting the use of an Alexa-powered platform allowing patients to interact hands-free with nurses and manage entertainment options. Patients in more than 100 patient rooms will interact with the platform, which is known as Aiva, via an Amazon Echo device.

When patients want to connect with nurses, they can speak their request in plain English, making statements such as “Alexa, tell my nurse I need to get up to use the restroom.” The Aiva platform routes the patient request to the right caregiver, which could be a nurse, clinical partner, manager, or administrator. If the request doesn’t draw a response quickly enough, Aiva sends the patient query further up the chain of command.

I was interested to note that Aiva had participated in the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator in 2017, and that the healthcare organization had been one of Aiva’s first investors. The startup has also gotten funding from the Google Assistant Investment Program and Amazon’s Alexa Fund, and not surprisingly works with Google Home in addition to Alexa.

Last month also saw the announcement that Vanderbilt University Medical Center was experimenting with voice recognition technology. VUMC, which demonstrated the new application at HIMSS19, is creating voice-controlled virtual assistant software which will allow team members to interact with the facility’s Epic EHR. The EHR Voice Assistant, known as EVA, will allow physicians to dig up clinical data using only voice commands. NoteSwift’s Samantha is doing similar things for other EHR vendors.

There are also some impressively-funded emerging startups focused on bringing voice assistants to clinical situations. For example, consider Suki, which has snagged $20 million from a group of investors including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Suki offers an AI-based voice assistant which allows doctors to create and manage documentation on their mobile phone using voice commands.

Other startups in this area include Kiroku, which allows dentists to create clinical notes using a voice assistant;, a virtual medical scribe which listens to patient consults and creates patient notes; and Notable; an AI-powered tool which captures audio of patient encounters, allows physicians to dictate labs, prescriptions and referrals and prepares notes for sign-off.

As you might have guessed, there are many other vendors competing in this space, and I imagine more than one innovation-minded health system is looking into what voice assistants can do. If I were an investor, I might buy into a company taking Vanderbilt’s approach, which seems just powerful enough without creating too much possibility for error, However, I’m sure there’s a number of approaches worth pursuing. All told, we’re looking at some exciting stuff here.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.