After hinting about it in a recent interview, Boston Children's Hospital has officially launched its partnership with Amazon Echo, which gives the voice-powered home appliance a new "skill" that will allow it to give simple health advice to parents about their children's' fever and medication dosing. Called KidsMD, the Alexa app is just the first step in a plan to bring Boston Children's medical knowledge to the consumer space, according to Chief Innovation Officer John Brownstein.
"We’re trying to extend the know-how of the hospital beyond the walls of the hospital, through digital, and this is one of a few steps we’ve made in that space," he told MobiHealthNews. "How do you take our know-how and content and make it available more broadly? We’re very mission-based around that."
Right now, any Alexa-enabled device, including the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap and Amazon Fire TV, can download the app. Once it's installed, parents will be able to ask Alexa whether symptoms like fever, cough, headache, rash, vomiting, sore throat, diarrhea, fatigue or shortness of breath warrant a call to the doctor. They can also ask about weight- or age-specific dosing guidelines for over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen.
"In my role at Boston Children’s, really thinking about the huge amount of content we have for patients in the pediatric building and thinking about all the channels that are out there to educate people, I’ve been very interested in the use of voice," Brownstein said. "Especially as Amazon launched their Echo product, it’s taken hold, and in my family with my kids there’s been a lot of love for the Alexa tool. So it occurred to us, Alexa can give information about the weather, the news, play music, tell jokes, but in the context of healthcare there’s got to be an opportunity to engage with consumers in a quick way."
The app description, and the language of Alexa itself, make it clear that the product isn't a substitute for medical care. But the hope is for it to get smarter with future updates and address a wider and wider range of medical concerns.
"There are other areas, of course. GI is an example," Brownstein said. "We think about things like poisonings and allergies. These are common outcomes where there’s a lot of confusion in the parent population and little understanding of evidence. We’ll start to tackle some of these topics over time and try to build up the KidsMD product to something much broader than it is now."
The news follows shortly after Amazon announced an integration with Fitbit, which allows Alexa to tell a user how they're doing on steps and offer some motivation. Both partnerships reflect a trend toward making the voice control hub more than an entertainment device, something that not only helps you choose music and movies, but also helps you to manage your health and the health of your children.