Amazon Alexa skill from Northwell Health points users to nearby ERs, away from long waits

By Dave Muoio
03:32 pm

A new skill for Amazon's Alexa voice assistant will direct New York patients to convenient emergency and urgent care locations with the shortest waits.

The voice-powered Northwell Health skill can be downloaded for free by anyone using an Alexa-enabled device. By addressing the Alexa, the skill responds to users with the address of the closest Northwell hospital emergency department or GoHealth Urgent Care center, as well as the current wait time of that particular location.

“It’s important for patients to find the shortest wait time that’s still convenient for them to access because quite frankly we want to get them the care that they need as quickly as possible,” Emily Kagan Trenchard associate vice president of digital and innovation strategy at Northwell Health, told MobiHealthNews. “When there are longer wait times it often means that the emergency department or urgent care is more impacted serving other patients, and if there is another location that’s available to them and convenient to them to travel to … that just means we get them the care that much quicker.”

The new skill was developed by integrating Northwell’s emergency and urgent care wait times portal. This service analyzes check-in data at Northwell centers every 15 minutes to display the current estimated wait time. Northwell’s skill also allows users to refine their search to specific zip codes, and easily differentiate between the nearest participating urgent care or emergency department.

“We’re looking at new ways to solve old problems. Integrating emergency department wait times into a skill for Amazon Alexa is just one example of how Northwell wants to make the healthcare experience a seamless part of your everyday life,” Ramon Soto, senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer at Northwell, said in a statement. “Connecting with our patients — and the broader community — where they live and interact is a core value. While technology will continue to evolve, our commitment to the patient experience remains constant.”

Northwell Health is New York’s largest health care provider. Primarily focused in the New York metro area, it cares for more than 2 million patients annually through its 22 hospitals and more than 550 outpatient facilities. GoHealth Urgent Care is a division of Northwell Health.

While the voice-driven interface is novel, Northwell isn’t the first provider to use connected technology to shield patients from long wait lines. CVS MinuteClinic, the large nationwide chain of in-store retail clinics, piloted wait time alongside remote scheduling features for their mobile app in 2015, and rolled the functionality out to all users the following year to enable convenient access to their retail clinics. In fact, mobile emergency room wait times have been available at least as far back as 2009, when HCA East Florida allowed iTriage users to evaluate their symptoms and find the appropriate location for their treatment.

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