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Understanding Voice Technology and How it Can Impact Healthcare

Oliver Tree | Marketing Content Manager

January 16, 2018

Consider this.

It took smartphones six years to go from 17 to 75 percent market penetration in the US.

It’ll take voice-activated smart speakers only three.

Not only is voice technology being adopted faster than any previous technology in the modern era, it will likely have an equal or greater disruptive effect on the way we shop, search and interact with brands too.

A recent Google survey found that almost 50% of those that currently own a smart speaker would like to receive ‘personalized tips and information from brands to make their lives easier, while 53 percent said it already ‘feels natural’ talking to a voice activated device.  

In addition:

And it’s not just smart speakers. At this years CES in Las Vegas, companies were falling over themselves to show off how they’d integrated Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant into their latest devices. From cars to showers (yes showers!) voice technology is set to be embedded in almost every device large enough to hold a microphone.

Voice-driven technology already presents amazing opportunities for healthcare organizations to connect with patients and caregivers like never before.  

Recognizing the impact and opportunity voice technology offers, however, is just the first step. Next, it’s important to understand the landscape of voice technology and how your organization can use each piece to create a meaningful voice strategy.

The Voice Technology Landscape

Voice technology can seem confusing at first glance: What exactly is it, what are the constituent parts, and how does it work? In order to understand voice technology, it’s important to understand some of the fundamentals, including:

  • Voice assistants
  • Voice search
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning

These words and phrases may seem like something out of a sci-fi movie, but the reality is you are likely already using some, or all, of these today.

Voice Assistants

Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana are the most well known voice assistants on the market right now. Put simply, they’re the software ‘brains’ connected to hardware like your iPhone or Amazon Echo smart speaker that listen to what you say, process what you mean, and (hopefully!) give you a relevant response. They can also control other internet connected ‘smart’ devices like thermostats and lightbulbs to remotely change the temperature or switch on a light.

They do this by using components of artificial intelligence (AI) such as natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning to discern the meaning behind the words you speak. Typically the data and algorithms that actually ‘do’ this thinking aren’t stored on your device, they’re stored in the cloud. This is why voice assistant enabled devices such as smart speakers need to be connected to the internet in order to work.  

Several hospitals and health systems have embraced Amazon’s app-like approach to the world of voice assistants, creating their own ‘Skill’ in Amazon’s Alexa Skill store that users can download on their Echo devices to better connect with their audience:

  • Northwell Health created an Amazon Alexa skill that offers wait times and direction to nearby hospitals and urgent care locations.
  • Boston Children’s built KidsMD , a voice-enabled symptom checker that parents can use to get answers to medication dosing questions, or questions about symptoms their child is experiencing.
  • Libertana Home Health Care has been using Alexa voice assistants to check in on patients and remind them to take medication or about upcoming appointments.

Voice Search

Voice assistants are changing how we search for information.

By 2020 it’s predicted that 50 percent of all searches will be voice activated, and that means healthcare marketers need to optimize their websites and make sure their digital content is voice-search friendly to take advantage of longer phrase, spoken queries.

By its very nature, the way we ask Alexa or Siri for something is different from how we might type the same question into the Google search bar.

For a more detailed look at voice search, read our latest post on optimizing your SEO strategy for voice technology.  

The Evolution of Voice Technology

Voice technology is rapidly evolving. The opportunities can seem endless, exciting and even a little daunting. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to expand the ways voice technology can be used to improve the patient experience, from chatbots, to doctor visits, to home health care. Fortunately, there’s no need to hole up in a room to create your own AI: Amazon, Google and Apple already offer AI technology and natural language processing to power your own voice tech.

There is no better time to start the conversation about incorporating voice technology in your healthcare organization. Stay tuned for our next blog post on how you can build an effective and robust voice strategy that connects your organization to current and prospective patients, and their families.

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