Apple Siri Will Now Walk Users Through the CDC COVID-19 Assessment Questions and Then Recommend Telehealth Apps, Alexa and Google Assistant Only Offer Basic Information
Apple quietly implemented a version of the U.S. Public Health Service and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) COVID-19 triage questionnaire protocol yesterday through Siri. If you say, “Hey Siri. Do I have coronavirus,” the voice assistant will walk you through a set of questions and make recommendations based on your responses.
There are a number of different conversations paths through the exchange with Siri. If you respond that you have some symptoms but are not sure if they are severe, Siri responds:
“If you experience persistent chest pain or pressure, extreme difficulty breathing, severe shortness of breath, severe constant dizziness or lightheadedness, slurred speech, or difficulty waking up, then seek immediate medical attention or call 911.
“Otherwise stay at home and isolate yourself from others. Contact a medical provider in your condition worsens, you’re age 65 or over, or you have a serious medical condition like lung or heart disease, or diabetes. If you can’t reach a provider, telehealth apps may be able to help.”
Tobias Goebel who was among the first people to notice the new feature expressed his unease with Apples’ approach in an exchange on Twitter.
Skeptical. It does seem to provide only very superficial information and otherwise point you to official resources, but I don’t like the idea of tech companies dabbling with medical information that is as difficult to come by as solid knowledge on SARSCoV2 currently still is
— Tobias Goebel 👀 (@tpgoebel) March 22, 2020
Links to Telemedicine Apps
In addition to the information and recommendations, the link to the app store stands out as interesting. The link takes the user to a page titled, “Connect with a Telehealth Provider” and says, “Chat with a provider via text, voice, or video and get care similar to what you’d receive during a traditional office visit.” Ten results are provided for telehealth apps with Amwell: Doctor Visits 24/7, Teledoc, and Sydney Care coming up as the top three.
When you click through on Sydney Care, the opening description has been updated to say, “Screen yourself and assess your risk for free with a COVID-19 Assessment available now.” From one perspective, this could be viewed as Apple trying to funnel users to its app partners and potentially taking advantage of the outbreak. However, these providers have been certified by the App Store and also have customer reviews discussing their experience. This doesn’t necessarily mean users should trust these providers to assistant them with COVID-19 questions, but it does provide a signal for them to assess quality.
In the end, the decision to include apps as a potential resource can be viewed favorably as offering a solution for people that are stuck at home and may not have a regular healthcare provider to call. Apple is not providing a single source for users to consult as Google search now does with its
Alexa and Google Assistant Provide Basic Information but No Triage Questions
Apple’s approach contrasts with Amazon and Google for their widely used voice assistants. Both companies have opted to just provide basic information about coronavirus without any conversational elements or attempts at diagnosis as illustrated in the videos below that were captured on March 22, 2020.
Both Amazon and Google also have taken the step respectively to remove all Alexa skills and Google Actions by third parties that address the COVID-19 coronavirus. That step was applied universally to all third-parties regardless of their origin or the credentials of the people behind them. For example, Teri Fisher, a physician in Canada who had a popular Alexa flash briefing on coronavirus, was one of the victims of the blanket takedown and received the same notification as others who are not trained medical professionals.
This raises a question about the role general-purpose voice assistants can and should play when there is an event that benefits from the widest possible dissemination of accurate information but also carries the risk that inaccurate information will also spread. Apple has decided it can have a greater impact by offering a more structured conversational experience. This is interesting because Siri is often criticized for having less utility than Alexa and Google Assistant, but in this case the situation is reversed.
Coronavirus Chatbots Spread Rapidly
Apple is not exactly alone, however, in providing a conversational experience related to coronavirus assessment, guidance, and information sharing. Orbita and Hyro have created chatbots for healthcare providers to help triage inbound patient inquiries. Rx.Health in collaboration with Mt. Sinai Health System has released a digital toolkit to help other providers handle the rapid influx of coronavirus inquiries. And, the CDC released the COVID-19 Assessment Bot chatbot Friday built using Microsoft’s Healthcare bot.
All of this activity demonstrates that conversational bots can play a role in helping address the current public health crisis. Apple believes Siri has a role alongside these specialty bots in answering basic questions and pointing consumers to telehealth providers. Siri also has a far broader consumer reach than bots that are only discovered when a patient locates it on a healthcare provider website or mobile app. That means Siri could deliver far broader impact. Google does have a new search page dedicated to coronavirus information, but it doesn’t offer assistance in risk assessment for consumers.
What do you think? Should voice assistants provide this type of information in a conversational interaction or should they simply provide basic information and hope consumers find what they need through other sources? Let me know on Twitter.