Is Voice-Activated Tech the Future of Home Care?
August 22, 2017 02:46 PM
Home care nurses and aides participating in a pilot program using voice-activated technology in southern California are finding that the experiment allows them to see more clients, be more responsive to the clients they have, and keep family-members informed of their clients’ latest medical developments.
A home health company with 3000 clients in homes and senior living communities tested an experimental skill of the Amazon Echo – a small voice-activated personal assistant – with five senior clients and their caregivers. The Echo works on voice prompts and can perform a variety of tasks, such as providing the news and weather, order groceries, play music and audio books, and turn lights on or off or dim them.
Using a skill custom-built for the Echo, seniors can verbally call for assistance from a caregiver, report their medical data (such as weight or blood sugar), and receive reminders to take their medication or exercise.
The voice technology allows caregivers to streamline the process of manually recording patient information and entering it into an electronic medical record. With the Echo on the job, half of that work is already done in moments. This allows caregivers to spend more time with their patients and less time worried about paperwork and data entry. Future developments in the technology could see the Echo inputting the medical data directing into an electronic medical record, giving caregivers even more time with patients and less time recording what they’re doing.
“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,” nurse Debra Harrison told CNBC. Access is granted via the use of an online application, allowing family to remotely keep tabs on the condition of their loved one.
An interesting side-benefit of voice-activated technology is that it can combat loneliness, which is a real problem for many home-bound seniors. (A recent study show lonely seniors report 38.5 percent worse symptoms than seniors who say they are not lonely.) The Echo does not just perform tasks, it also responds to the seniors and can do things like tell jokes, wish someone a happy birthday or even just tell them they are loved. Seniors may come to view the device as virtually a member of their family, something that has been noticed among children, as well.
Amazon is partnering with Merck and Luminary Labs on the Alexa Diabetes Challenge, which will award a $125,000 prize in September 2017 to a start-up company that can develop a voice application to help patients with Type-2 diabetes manage their condition.
While the pilot study in southern California used an Amazon Echo, the market is becoming more crowded with such personal assistants. Google has a device called Google Home and Microsoft’s Cortana, have similar capabilities to the Echo. Samsung and other companies are in the process of developing advanced voice-activated personal assistants that could prove life-changing for many seniors and disabled Americans.
However, security will be a key concern as this technology expands into the health care sector. To fulfill their potential, voice applications will need to be connected to patient medical, which will trigger privacy concerns. HIPAA (from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) regulations were not written with this sort of technology in mind and updates will need to be made before voice-activated technology can become an industry-wide practice.