The Story Behind Boston Children’s Hospital KidsMD Alexa Skill
Boston Children’s Hospital launched the KidsMD Alexa skill in early 2016 making it a pioneer among healthcare providers experimenting with voice assistants. Devin Nadar is partnerships manager for innovation and the digital health accelerator at Boston Children’s Hospital and will speaking about voice technology at the upcoming Voice of Healthcare Summit at Harvard Medical School on August 7th. Below is the transcript of a recent email interview with Devin about what motivated Boston Children’s to get started with voice, what they have learned and what’s next.
1) Boston Children’s Hospital was among the first healthcare institutions in the U.S. to utilize Amazon’s Alexa, creating the KidsMD Alexa skill. What is the purpose of that Alexa skill, and what initially drew you to the technology?
Devin Nadar: The goal of KidsMD is to provide a trusted source of pediatric education. We wanted to engage more with consumers and provide decision support tools to help parents and patients better understand common symptoms. We developed this skill using Amazon’s Alexa platform because, at the time, it was the only platform that was available for third parties to build on that had an associated, commercially-available smart speaker. Their platform was easy to use and allowed us to quickly build something, make it available to patients and parents, and start learning from our experiences leveraging voice in a healthcare context.
2) What results have you seen from the KidsMD skill, and how are you measuring its success?
Nadar: We continue to be encouraged by the success of the KidsMD skill. To date, there have been over 100,000 interactions with the skill and we have around 200 unique users each week, indicating that, even after two years, we continue to reach new users and provide useful advice to parents and families. Through KidsMD and our other efforts to embed clinical decision support tools, we have been able to validate that there is a need for parents and families to have easier access trusted pediatric content.
3) Google Assistant has made great strides over 2018, gaining smart speaker market share from Amazon and rolling out new technologies such as Google Duplex. In Boston Children’s future voice-first plans, does Google Assistant have a role? Or is BCH sticking with Alexa, now that it has gotten comfortable with that technology?
Nadar: Both Amazon and Google have made significant strides in the voice realm and the technology has advanced significantly since we developed KidsMD. As we think toward new ways that voice can be used inside and outside the walls of the hospital, we are open and excited about expanding the presence of voice using the platforms that are easiest to use within the healthcare context. We do plan to have KidsMD available through Google Assistant in the near future and are also excited to explore the possibility of Google Duplex for providing services to patients and care teams.
4) How would you describe the potential for voice-first technology, broadly, to impact modern healthcare?
Nadar: The potential for voice-first technology to impact modern healthcare is incredible, especially when thinking about how patients can use this technology in their home to better manage their health and how we can bring clinical expertise, guidance and support to patients in a format that is most convenient for them. Today, there are significant barriers to this, mainly around HIPAA compliance. But in the meantime, we are encouraged by the different clinical pain points that we think can be solved by voice-first technology as it exists today.
5) What features might we see from Boston Children Hospital’s follow-up to KidsMD? What other Alexa skills or voice experiences does the hospital have its eyes on, over the short to intermediate term?
Nadar: We are planning to rollout a robust V2 version of KidsMD where we will be optimizing the KidsMD skill for screen displays, enhancing the conditions and treatment options available in the skill and working to get in front of the recently released skill discovery capabilities. We don’t want to give too much away but we are looking to deploy more skills around pediatric education in the near future and also diligently working on several internal pilots in our ICU and in our surgical units. Unfortunately, until there is a HIPAA compliant smart speaker, our scope is more limited than we’d like.
6) What speaker, other than yourself, are you most excited to hear from at The Voice of Healthcare Summit?
Nadar: I’m looking forward to hearing Dr. Teri Fisher share his insights, as a physician, at the summit. We have been diligently trying to get the clinical perspective on voice as much as possible as we think about how to develop voice skills for healthcare. Listening to your users is one of the most important steps in any project lifecycle, so I’m sure that Dr. Fisher’s perspective and insights will be incredibly valuable to anyone looking to use voice in a healthcare setting.