NHS Study on Future of Healthcare Foresees Voice Assistants Helping Clinicians and Home-Based Patient Care
The U.K. National Health System (NHS) has published a new report on the future of digital technologies in healthcare and speech recognition used in conjunction with voice assistants and chatbots is prominently highlighted. “Preparing the healthcare workforce to deliver the digital future,” is a 100-page report commissioned by the NHS Secretary and led by U.S. geneticist Dr. Eric Topol, who is executive vice president and professor of molecular medicine at the Scripps Research Institute. The report leads off by saying:
As people live longer, but also with more long-term conditions, there is an inexorable increase in the demand for healthcare.
The Role of AI, Voice, and Robotics in Healthcare
It will surprise no one that genomics and personalized medicine are a key focus of the report. However, digital medicine and AI technologies are the other two categories expected to deliver the biggest impact. These are the categories where voice assistants will play a role. The report focuses on speech recognition (SR) technologies as a key ingredient to help clinicians become more effective and allow for more patient interaction both with physicians and through digital channels.
“Using AI-based technologies, automated image interpretation in radiology and pathology will lead to faster diagnosis, while speech recognition has the potential to free up more staff time to deliver care. AI will transform patient-generated data into clinically useful information and empower patients to manage their own health or seek appropriate health support…
“With recent advances in SR (speech recognition) algorithm design and system performance, this technology now presents a valuable tool for clinical documentation – the benefit for the healthcare workforce to focus on patient interaction and care rather than the computer screen and keyboard is clear. This is likely to have a major impact in primary care, as well as outpatients and emergency departments in hospitals. An example of an SR application enabled by NLP is a mental health triage bot that analyses text and voice inputs for emotion and suicidal ideation. Its co-design and development with NHS mental health staff ensures that the bot replicates existing clinical practice and meets NICE guidelines.
When we consider voice assistant technology for healthcare it is best to view two paths. The first will be as an assistant to clinicians offering access to more information, faster and enabling more focus on the patient. Other use cases are enabling hands-free applications such as during surgery. The other path is direct interaction with the patient as a “virtual medical coach” that can help patients manage diabetes, depression and other chronic conditions. Companies such as Black & Decker Healthcare, Pillo, LifePod, and Orbita are today focused in providing solutions for patients that leverage general purpose voice assistants like Amazon Alexa or custom solutions.
Voice Assistants and Speech Recognition Technologies Will Not Be Used Immediately
While the report is bullish on the medium-term impact of voice assistants in healthcare, it is not expecting too much adoption over the next 1-2 years. Genomics and telemedicine are expected to have an immediate impact while speech recognition technologies are forecasted to start having a significant impact beyond two years, but will ramp up quickly from about 20% adoption by healthcare providers in 2023 to 80% adoption by 2030.