Amazon Echo devices are fun and useful applications for consumers in the home. But in the hospital, such voice recognition technology has the potential to save lives.
Developers at top hospitals and medical clinics across the country are tinkering with Amazon Alexa and other voice technologies for a variety of applications. Some are working with Alexa to deliver routine medical information to patients at home; others are using it to help surgeons complete lists of tasks.
"There are some massive voice applications that will be built for health enterprises," John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital, told CNBC.
Physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital are researching how text-to-speech technology can be useful in helping surgeons comply with surgical safety checklists in the operating room.
Raul Uppot, a radiologist at the hospital, told CNBC that in one case a patient was listening in to the safety checklist via a voice application right before going under. The patient had an allergy to latex, a fact that was missing from the medical record, but was addressed thanks to the checklist.
That might have averted disaster, as the surgeons had intended to use latex gloves.
Uppot is now sold on the potential of voice technology, not just to help doctors but also to involve patients in their own care in new ways.
Likewise, Boston Children's hospital released an Alexa app called KidsMD for users to get health information for common illnesses and medication dosing. Internally, the hospital has also piloted an Alexa app to help its physicians comply with protocols before procedures and surgeries.