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Integrating Voice Enablement into the Hospital Room of the Future #NHITWeek

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During National Health IT Week, champions from across the industry are uniting to share their voices on how health IT is catalyzing change in U.S. healthcare. The following post from a National Health IT Week Partner is one of the many perspectives of how information and technology is transforming health in America.

Robin Cavanaugh

Since the early days of science fiction, we have been fascinated with the idea of talking to computers – and even more excited about them talking back to us.

The concept has been around for decades, made popular by tv and movies, which had an often-imitated and parodied voice computer interface. Today voice interaction technology has become mainstream and we experience it in virtually every aspect of our lives – and actually expect it with our computers, phones and homes.

Three Primary Functions of Voice Technology

Hearing
The technology picks up a user’s voice and records it in a format that computers understand. Some devices constantly listen for a “wake word” to start the process, which is much like initiating a conversation with a real person. Other technologies include “push to talk” functionality that requires users to push a button to activate the listening process. While slightly less convenient, this method offers some superior technical benefits in other areas. Regardless of the method, once you trigger the device, your spoken phrases are immediately recorded and sent to a cloud service and translated into action.

Understanding
After hearing a user speak, the technology translates the recorded speech into a set of executable actions. Using an array of algorithms, natural language processing, pattern-matching and artificial intelligence, the phrase fragments are translated into user intents – which is actually a task at the heart of voice interfaces. Because we can state the same goal or question in multiple ways, the processing system must adapt and recognize all variations. Consider the intelligence behind a system that interprets:

“Are there any good movies to watch?”
“Show me winter movies”
“Watch a movie”

Recognizing that all are different ways to ask a similar question. Of course, everything gets more challenging as requests become more complex and require these systems to manage data privacy concerns, interpret accented speech, decipher technical phrases and more.

Doing
Once the system understands the user’s intent, question or request, the reply is typically passed back to the originating system to perform the specified task, such as providing a response to an inquiry, starting a movie or playing a song. Virtually any system with an accessible programming interface can now leverage this technology and be activated with a voice command rather than a keyboard.

Applying Voice Enablement to Healthcare

The application of voice enablement to healthcare – and interactive patient care in particular – can be transformative because of the potential to eliminate barriers limiting a patient’s ability to retrieve critical information. Consider, for example, how empowered a patient might feel if s/he no longer needed to sit in front of computer screen and log into a computer to access a portal containing his/her health history or other relevant and timely health information.

A patient’s new normal might include saying things like:

“What time is my doctor's appointment?”
“Send my physician my last 10 blood pressure readings.”
“Can I eat before my procedure tomorrow?”
“Let's finish my surgery home care plan.”

As more and more consumers adopt voice-enabled devices, we have the opportunity to help patients retrieve the information they need more quickly and directly than ever before, which is why we must continue to leverage powerful speech processing frameworks and add additional integration with existing interactive patient care data and applications.

In an inpatient setting, patients with limited mobility can use this same technology to navigate their interactive patient care system without lifting a finger. This introduces a whole new way of engaging patients in their most vulnerable moments:

“Show me information on my medications.”
“What is the name of the nurse who was here yesterday?”
“Help me order my lunch.”
“l want to write a note to my doctor.”
“Play some relaxing music to help me sleep.”

Voice interfaces provide an effective way to interact with patients by eliminating barriers and providing easy access to information, by fitting into the natural flow of patients’ lives, by interacting with them without requiring them to pick up a device, and by truly listening to their needs. With voice interfaces, patients can have a voice and be heard in critical conversations about their health.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

National Health IT Week | October 8-12

Healthcare Transformation | Access to Care | Economic Opportunity | Healthy Communities

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