Voice Assistants in Hospitals: Improving Patient Care



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If you or a loved one was recently hospitalized, you almost certainly used voice assistant technology in your hospital room.

You may have spoken to one named Livi, Alexa, Siri, or Cortana. And it answered you! This is known as ambient listening voice assistant technology.

Years ago, you pulled a cord or pressed a button at your bedside. You talked to a nurse or an aide at a desk down the hall.

Now, a little electronic box, sphere, or cylinder can listen to your question, and it has been trained to answer. 

What’s for Lunch?

In an interview with Laurie Orlov in HomeCare magazine, John Halamka, MD, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston said, “If you are an inpatient, what are the things typically you would like to know?”

Such as ‘When will my doctor be here? What’s for lunch? Simple types of things for which you need answers.

Today, you pull a cord installed in 1955 that flips a relay that turns on a light, meaning a nurse might be there in 10 minutes.

“Even modern nurse call systems are reminiscent of what would have been found in hospital rooms in the 1950s.”

The “Machine Friend”

Ambient listening voice assistant technology began to appear in hospital rooms in 2019, and it is being refined by manufacturers to improve its responses.

Voice assistant technology is hands-free, which is helpful for patients with limited mobility and strength.

The technology is already being used in several children’s hospitals. This helps ease children’s fears by answering their many questions and concerns.

Especially if they are likely to be alone in the room. Children probably enjoy questioning their talkative “machine friend” during a hospital stay.

And the nurses probably enjoy not having to answer the same questions repeatedly!

Senior Use

Seniors are more likely to use this technology to request information about symptoms or treatments for medical conditions. Though younger patients are more likely to use voice assistants, seniors are expected to become more comfortable with this technology.

As more people use it and get used to it, their skills will improve in-home care and medical facilities.

Patient Privacy

Be aware that ambient listening technology is listening to conversations in your hospital room in order to detect your voice giving a command.

If that causes you to be concerned about confidentiality or your privacy, then you might request that the device be turned off, that it be removed, or that you can be moved to another room without the device. 

Manufacturers of these devices are beginning to address HIPAA compliance for patient privacy and confidentiality, which should improve in the future.

So far, there have been no known violations of confidentiality or privacy in hospital facilities using this voice assistant technology.

What’s Ahead?

With the increasing demand for healthcare delivery during a health crisis and pandemic, healthcare organizations are looking to leverage voice assistants in healthcare to improve the patient experience and support healthcare delivery.

Voice assistant technology could be used in medical settings in the future to prevent mistakes, connect to different devices, and help doctors make diagnoses.

The use of voice tech and AI in healthcare, such as virtual assistants and speech recognition, can improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery and reduce physician burnout.

Healthcare providers can use voice-based technology to access and input patient information into electronic health records (EHR) and other healthcare systems, thanks to the capability of natural language processing and conversational AI.

This can help enhance healthcare providers’ workflow and the quality of treatment they provide.

In the healthcare field, smart speakers and chatbots are becoming more popular ways to get health information. Alexa skills and Google Assistant apps are becoming increasingly popular in the healthcare industry to give patients easy access to health information and answer their questions about their health.

But there are limitations and suggestions for more work in the area of speech AI in healthcare, such as addressing concerns about the privacy of personal health information and making AI models specific to the healthcare domain.

In conclusion

The healthcare industry is starting to use the potential of voice technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the patient experience, speed up healthcare delivery, and make healthcare workers’ jobs easier.

As technology companies keep making new technologies and solutions, it is expected that the future of voice assistants in healthcare will bring even more benefits to healthcare organizations, patients, and professionals.