voice assistant technology

Voice Assistant Technology in Hospitals

If you or a loved one has been in a hospital lately, it is likely that you used voice assistant technology in your hospital room.   You may have spoken to one named Livi, or Alexa, or Siri, or Cortana.  And it answered you!  That technology is called 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 that means a nurse might be there in 10 minutes. Even modern nurse call systems still are very reminiscent of things that would have been in hospital rooms in the 1950s.”

The “Machine-Friend”

Ambient listening voice assistant technology began to appear in hospital rooms during 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. You can imagine that this is helpful in allaying children’s fears by answering their many questions and concerns. Especially if they might be alone in the room.  Probably, children actually enjoy questioning their talkative “machine-friend” during a hospital stay.  And the nurses probably enjoy not having to answer the same questions over and over again!

Senior Use

Seniors are most likely to use this technology to ask for a search concerning symptoms or treatments of health conditions, according to the article in the Sept. 2020, edition of HomeCare magazine.   Though voice assistant use is most readily used by younger patients, it is believed that seniors will become more comfortable in voice assistant technology. As it becomes more widespread and familiar to them, their skills will improve in both home care and medical facility settings.

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 incidents of violations of confidentiality or privacy in hospital facilities using these devices.

What’s Ahead

So, what’s ahead for voice assistant technology in medical settings?  Potentially, there could be voice assistants that could spot and prevent health care mistakes, ones that could connect to a variety of devices throughout the hospital, and others that could help in diagnosis. The roles of voice assistant technology are predicted to increase steadily in the next five years.

Are you ready to speak to your hospital room assistant?

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