Voice tech gearing up for its next wave

Connected Health Conference speakers said design and security concerns will be ironed out as the technology advances.
By Tom Sullivan
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BOSTON — Voice technology is growing out of its first wave of reactive information services and becoming more proactive in ways that can help clinicians and consumers more effectively manage their health.

After the first takeaway that 2018 is the year of voice tech pilots, that’s another impression from Monday’s Voice.Health Summit, hosted by Boston Children's, here at the Connected Health Conference.

WHY IT MATTERS

The first wave — wherein a person asks Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Assistant or Microsoft Cortana a question that the software answers — is a reactive information service. And that’s a great foundation for the second wave: proactive voice that makes recommendations without being prompted.

“Proactive voice represents a huge opportunity to support people because it can reach out and touch you,” said Stuart Patterson, CEO of LifePod Solutions. “It’s opening up an incredible new domain of apps and services that will be a shared services model in addition to self-service or a caregiver-controlled services model.”

THE BIG PICTURE

Early adopters are already running proofs-of-concept or pilots to shape the future of patient experience.

Orbita CEO Nate Treloar said that early success stories have been KidsMD from Boston Children’s, the WebMD Alexa skill, and Mayo Clinic skill for first-aid.

“We’re seeing more interest in voice-powered guided apps in the context of general health and chronic care,” Treloar said. “As we move forward were starting to see in-clinic use cases.”

UPMC Enterprises Executive Vice President Dr. Shivdev Rao said that his team, too, is “anticipating that these technologies will mature and we can use them in clinics.”

WHAT’S AHEAD: SECURITY AND DESIGN

Voice is not perfect. Technology, particularly in the early stages of widespread use, rarely is. And the truth is we don’t know what chaos could ultimately ensue when voice-based interfaces make mistakes.

“People are still concerned about security and HIPAA of course,” said Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s. “There has to be a new user interface for voice that is different from a computer.”

Call it a VUI, as in voice user interface.

“We need to think about training the technology to work with users, not training the users,” said Anne Weiler, CEO of Wellpepper. “The goal is for tech to move as fast as our expectations because our expectations are high.”

Treloar added that Orbita’s entire business is a bet on the future of voice and conversational experiences. “We’re trying to get to a place where the tech doesn’t put the burden of training on a user.”

OUR TAKE

Much the way that PCs then laptops, the internet, smartphones and social networks really changed life, voice technologies will require, if not inspire, innovators, infosec teams and hospital executives to imagine new ways to conduct business which, in this case, relates to interfacing with and improving care for patients.

If only because, in the words of Susan Bennett, the original voice of Apple’s Siri: “Smart speakers and voice apps make patients happier.”

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Twitter: SullyHIT
Email the writer: tom.sullivan@himssmedia.com