Voice Technology In Hospitals Brings Benefits And Risks For Patients

Smart speakers are just the tip of the iceberg for how hospitals are using voice recognition tech to improve patient care.

Voice Technology In Hospitals Brings Benefits And Risks For Patients
UC Health

Hospitals are turning to more voice technology: to help patients schedule visits, to help clinicians take notes, and even to help diagnose some illnesses. But for long term success, voice tech will still have to prove itself useful — and secure.

These days, patients can hold a conversation with an app to view their medical records or talk to experts. Nicole Caputo with UC Health, a hospital system that includes the University of Colorado, says it's tried to make its voice and AI tool, Livi, approachable.

"Sure, you can go on and you can do a quick search for information. But health care is personal. Health care is local. And we really want to make sure that we're focused with our conversational A.I. strategy with Livi," Caputo said. "She can help you find doctors, locations, and health information. We most recently just launched her in our U.S. health mobile app. We were able to integrate not only with all the things she can already do on the Web site, but also with your personal health record. So I can go on my phone at any time and ask Livi for my latest test results or ask her to cancel my appointment tomorrow."

HCA Healthcare, a hospital system in 20 states, uses voice recognition to help clinicians take better notes in patients’ electronic medical records.

"When they document, they have to put in the know the history and the physical of the patient or the assessment or the discharge note. And that's still very text. And you can type or you can do voice technology," explained Andy Draper, Chief Information Officer for HCA Continental Division.  

"The heavy users, all physicians can use it. But in particular, hospitalists, who have a very lengthy note, psychiatrists who have a very lengthy note, radiology has been a huge adopter of voice recognition because all of their analysis is qualitative and looking at the image and translating into a report."

Voice recognition is even starting to help identify illness. The Mayo Clinic tells Newsy it's researching how your voice can help doctors detect disease.

"Using the voice characteristics, we call them utterances, the frequency and intensity of the voice to help us diagnose potentially coronary artery disease," Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, Mayo Clinic's Associate Medical Director For Content Management And Delivery told Newsy. "They did a study looking at angiograms in one hundred and thirty eight patients at Mayo and correlated that with their voice. And they they listened to their voice during this time period and saw a correlation between the voice as a care, as a diagnostic tool that correlated with the higher risk of having coronary artery disease. "

Experts say the next challenge will be making voice recognition in hospitals more interactive. Instead of just responding, it might start to learn. 

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"What we want it to be is more of a contextual knowledge interface so that it will understand if there were mistakes made or resolving an issue and correcting it to say, 'do you mean this? Or what did you what was this the right answer I gave you?' So think about how the interaction on this voice interface can make it more empathetic to the needs of the consumer," Pruthi said.

Any hospital using voice recognition technology also has to consider new privacy concerns. Newsy spoke with providers who say they often give their voice data stricter privacy standards than medical information protected under HIPAA — but they added patients may still want to make sure their hospital has secured its Wi-Fi.

"On the provider side. It's our burden with all of our clinics and urgent care centers and hospitals to provide technology that's safe," Draper said. "And I would say secure is safety. We make sure that MRI’s are safe. The CT's, all those technologies, the shots, the blood pressure cuffs, all those things are safe. And I think voice recognition falls into that category as well. As the technology companies begin to deploy technology like voice recognition-then the burden is on them."

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