Boston Children’s Hospital Demonstrates the Potential of Alexa in Healthcare

Last year Boston Children’s Hospital launched the first healthcare Alexa skill, KidMD™ to answer worried parents queries about their child’s symptoms. But the hospital didn’t stop there. Boston Children’s is now experimenting with the voice platform in a variety of ways to increase quality of patient care and operational efficiency throughout the hospital itself. “The nice thing is that it’s such a flexible platform that we’re doing a lot of work independently within the enterprise. Alexa, for us, is more about leveraging this initial platform as a way to experiment with voice more broadly in the hospital setting,” said Matt Murphy, innovation lead at the institution’s Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator.

Alexa as a Healthcare Assistant

Boston Children’s is testing a number of Alexa skills to assist the hospital staff in routine tasks. One skill for the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) provides nurses with basic intelligence on medication dosing, specific protocols, staff contact info and other relevant data points. It also a skill that enables the user to pinpoint the location of a specific medical device or medication in a large stock room to save time. In developing these skills, the team at Boston Children’s learned a few lessons about how to best optimize the user experience. One being that hospitals are noisy environments, much louder than the typical household. To solve this, the team had to observe where the clinician would most likely be in the room when using the device so Alexa could clearly hear and be heard.

The Future Voice of Healthcare

Another lesson is the skills the clinicians find most helpful are those that provide quick access to reference information. But one key data point is missing: the lack of patient information. Voice platforms are not yet HIPPA compliant, so Boston Children’s is still unable to access patient data through voice command. “We definitely need to make that transition into the HIPAA-compliant framework before we can build out fully-enabled skills that have all the patient’s health information on demand,” said Murphy.

But for now, Boston Children’s innovative approach to using Alexa in the hospital setting demonstrates the potential of using Alexa and other voice assistants in healthcare. “I’d say there’s definitely a future vision of voice being able to drive a lot of the interface or interactions that clinicians have with the medical record and other reference data sets around patient information, just because it’s such a deep amount of information you have to process about a patient,” Murphy said. “Pulling those things via voice commands is really powerful and I think that’s probably the future of voice in healthcare.”