Google Home in the Operating Room


Image Credit: University of California, San Francisco

This week Science Daily reported that a Google Home smart speaker was used in an operating room. At the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 2019 Annual Scientific Meeting researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) presented their work on a device-sizing application for the Google Home. The application is able to process queries in order to provide recommendations on the precise sizing of medical devices. For example, a physician, like an interventional radiologist (IR), can ask Google Assistant what size sheath to use in order to implant a stent in a patient’s blood vessel, and the Assistant is able to respond both timely and accurately. Kevin Seals, MD, a fellow in interventional radiology at UCSF and lead author of the study commented,

During treatment, IRs rely on nuanced medical information delivered in a timely manner. When you’re in the middle of a procedure, you need to remain sterile, so you lose the ability to use a computer. This smart speaker technology helps us to quickly and intelligently make decisions relevant to a patient’s specific needs.

UCSF researchers developed the application using Dialogflow, and gathered size specifications by looking at literature reviews for 475 IR devices, such as catheters, sheaths, stents, vascular plugs and others. A Python script deployed to the cloud was used to perform logic operations and other data processing. Dialogflow is a tool that helps users to build voice and text-based conversational interfaces.

Researchers Want More Voice Applications

According to Science Daily, the UCSF researchers are planning to continue the scope of this Google Home application, aiming to include physicians from other fields and include information on material costs and inventory databases. The researchers will also be looking into gathering contextual information about patients from electronic health records and patient clinical data, like allergies or prior surgeries. Seals said,

There are hundreds of devices, with more being introduced every day, making it difficult to determine the correct sizing or materials needed in every circumstance. This technology allows physicians to concentrate more closely on the care of their patients, devoting less time and mental energy to device technicalities.

Voice Assistants Expected by Many to be the Future of Healthcare

There are a wealth of different ways voice assistants can be applied to healthcare. One way is to aid clinicians. In a February report by the U.K. National Health System on the future of digital technologies in healthcare, the role of AI, voice, and robotics in healthcare was prominently highlighted. Part of the report focused on speech recognition creating more effective clinicians.

Another way is to interact with a patient directly, which we have seen through applications from Black & Decker Healthcare, PilloLifePod, Omron Healthcare, and Orbita. These direct applications promote patient and consumer personalization, aiding consumers in managing their medication, keeping track of chronic conditions like diabetes, and helping loved ones stay up to date. A recent post by Emily Walsh, Community Outreach Director of the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, also pointed out the potential role of voice assistants in healthcare. She wrote,

Voice assistants have two major groups of potential users in healthcare: physicians and patients. Physicians often utilize programs to take patient notes, process data, and access records. The organization of data is an important component in time-saving, and voice assistants may be the solution.

Although the inclusion of voice assistants in healthcare may not be an immediate switch, this device-sizing application created by researchers at UCSF points to a clear trend of the adoption of voice assistants in healthcare.

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