Yesterday at the Voice of Healthcare Summit at Harvard Medical School, panelists discussed the lure of voice technology, its opportunities and the importance of keeping privacy front and center.

The challenges, opportunities of implementing voice in pharma

By Laura Lovett
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Increasingly, Amazon Alexa and Siri are no longer just a tool for ordering pizza. Voice technology has found its way into healthcare, and now one of the most established industries in the medical world is starting to explore the possibilities of voice: pharma. 

“I think voice should be part of a robust ecosystem in which pharma provides treatment information … and things like that,” Kay Bayne, senior manager of consumer and HCP marketing at AstraZeneca, said during the Voice of Healthcare Summit at Harvard Medical School yesterday. 

While the technology has a myriad of potential use cases, there are still a lot of unknowns. 

“I think right now there is a lot of experimenting going on trying to figure out how to use this as a platform,” Shwen Gwee, cofounder of Novartis Biome and global head of Open Innovations at Novartis, said during the event. “We are heavily regulated. While that prevents us from doing things that are overly creative, it also gives us an opportunity because with things like pre-approved content … you have the opportunity to really leverage these medias and drive some of the things that have been done by traditional channels in the past. So really looking at things like patient support programs, medical information or even marketing to clinical. I’ve seen voice for collecting patient-reported outcomes for clinical trials.”

However, like many other new gadgets on the market today, there is a danger of adopting voice for the just for the sake of it. 

“It’s not just voice. Voice is probably the newest of them. We had the websites that were brochures online, we had apps that nobody used, and now we are desperate to use this new medium but it’s a shiny new tool,” Gwee said. “So, it is more about changing the mindset about how we approach conversations and engage with customers, patients or caregivers.”

Appropriate technology

Voice is just one way to exchange information. While it can be useful in some cases, it’s not always the best way to convey news. Gwee said it’s important for the data from voice to be able to be moved to other communication channels. 

“For example, there are some private conversations you might want to have by text because you don’t want to be walking down the street and your phone goes off and says ‘Don’t forget to take your Viagra today,’" Gwee said. "When you are at home, voice is much easier to do."

These privacy issues aren’t just about compliance, but also common sense, according to Kaplin. 

“A lot of people will talk about privacy in the context of voice and will automatically go to HIPAA compliancy and data security and transferring to voice assistant,” Lexi Kaplin, cofounder and chief product officer at conversationHEALTH, said during the conference. “But not often will privacy and user experience and what is the expectation for using this skill [come up]. I always like to ask what is the best channel to ask this question, and what is the best channel to receive it.”

While privacy may be a major focus of voice technology, standard compliance regulations are also a consideration.

“The two biggest indicators that conversational AI might fail in pharma is either not having a proper solution to solve for, or not bringing compliance on early enough,” Kaplin said. 

She said that if compliance is brought in later on down the road, the regulatory team could be forced to pull capabilities. As such, Kaplin said it's important that those looking to implement the technology focus on "bringing regulatory into the conversations from the beginning, being able to create the right solutions from the beginning [and] how many constraints are there for the right reason."