Alexa, Please Turn On the Lights

Alexa, Please Turn On the Lights

This monthly blog highlights and discuss emerging trends and challenges related to healthcare data and its ever changing life cycle.

By Braden Tabisula, MBA, RHIA, CHDA


Intelligent digital assistants work by listening to the environment, analyzing any voice input, and sending the processed language to a database on the cloud that then actually processes the data and gives a response. What you hear is whatever answer the smart assistant received. The database continually grows and learns with each new query that comes in. Intelligent digital assistants, like Alexa and Siri, have infiltrated our daily lives. This technology is gaining ground, with implementation among many devices. It is predicted that by 2022 (4 years away), 55 percent of all US households will have one smart speaker in their home. Our phones have them, smart speakers in our homes have them. What if hospitals had them, too?

Interestingly enough, several hospitals have tried implementing some type of smart speaker in patient rooms and physician offices. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital implemented speakers that could understand certain commands and accomplish tasks such as turning the lights down, changing the temperature, or closing the blinds in a patient’s room. Since patient falls are events we want to avoid in the hospital, technology like this helps limit the need for fall-risk patients to get up out of bed to do simple things such as turning the lights on and off.

Intelligent digital assistants with speakers provide healthcare providers with another pair of hands. Instead of clicking a mouse, pounding a keyboard, or tapping a screen we can use our voice to do things. Especially in an environment where we need to contain germs, it would be helpful to not have to touch yet another item that will continue to spread bacteria or viruses.

We still have a lot of ironing out to do with intelligent digital assistants and smart speakers, because of the ramifications we may face as far as breaches of privacy and confidentiality of patient data in the hospitals. Physicians at Boston Children’s Hospital noted that they still have some hesitancy to use a voice assistant in the office with their patients due to possible conflicting recommendations of care. However, the physicians were receptive in using them in the waiting room to answer simple questions. These could be questions like where is the office located, or the restrooms.

We can definitely start out small and low risk, but just as tablets and electronics got their place in hospitals and the healthcare environment, it might not be too long until we have smart digital assistants in patient rooms.


Braden Tabisula is assistant professor at Loma Linda University.

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