Nurses and home care aides at Libertana Home Health Care have been using Alexa with some elderly clients for several weeks in an experiment. Already, it has helped them be more responsive to their clients' needs, streamlining things like making sure they get their medication. The companion online app has also made it easier to keep family caregivers in the loop.
"We can give access to family members... the same access we have, to be able to check and see how the clients are doing... so they can see how their mom is doing," explained Debra Harrison, a nurse with Libertana, "to free up time to socialize with their (family member) and not worry about their medical care."
Libertana's Alexa skill — as voice applications are called on the Amazon Echo platform — was designed by Orbita, a 2½-year-old voice platform start-up in Boston.
"Voice is becoming that next wave of how can we engage because it really means that we're lowering the friction for people to be able to interact with something," said Bill Rogers, co-founder and CEO of the company.
Orbita is developing and testing health-care programs for clients including hospitals that want to make sure patients take their medications and follow post-surgery instructions, and drugmakers, who want to make it easier for trial participants to share their data.
"We ultimately have to make the information that you collect actionable," said Rogers. "And so our system can notify electronic health record systems."
Orbita is focused on industry applications rather than consumer health apps. But the tech giants like Apple, Alphabet's Google and Amazon could well blaze the path in consumer health with their digital voice assistants and the ability for their programs to anticipate user's needs through machine learning, according to Scripps Health's Dr. Eric Topol.
"The ability to interact with an individual, a consumer, with their data and the world's medical literature — no one has done that yet," said Topol, author of "The Creative Destruction of Medicine." "Ultimately I think there will be a race between the likes of Amazon, Apple, (and Google's) Verily to get there first — as well as, perhaps, a couple of hundred start-ups."