Voice-activated home devices are billed as technology’s next must-have gadget. Since arriving on the scene two years ago after a shaky debut, Amazon’s Echo appears to have hit its stride. As of May, Amazon had sold around 3 million units, regularly selling out on Amazon. And competitors are emerging. This fall, Google’s answer to Echo, Google Home, will launch. However, by and large, this is still uncharted territory.
The technology is exciting—Echo can request an Uber, read transit schedules, even control Internet-connected lights in the home and adjust thermostats.
However, things really start to get interesting when the idea of voice-activated technology is applied to home-based health care to support the growing population of patients with very specific health needs that this technology integration could well serve.
Home-Based Care Gaining Momentum
Home-based health care is picking up momentum, particularly as the U.S. sees a sharp increase in the number of older Americans. In 2050, the number of people over 65 years of age is estimated to be 83.7 million, almost double its estimated population of 43.1 million in 2012.
One story found that, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “the existing long-term care and assisted living infrastructure is not sufficient to address the needs of the growing elderly population, many of whom are homebound due to disability, chronic illness, poverty, and lack of familial support.”
Home-based care is recognized as an efficient and effective solution to treat not just the growing numbers of seniors, but also patients with mobility impairment and chronic health conditions who require frequent medical care.
Digital health is progressing to give these patient populations and their care providers better access to tools that will help them better manage their health from home. But, voice-activated technology has the potential to provide a new communication channel that can leverage the effectiveness and efficiency of home-based care even further.
Voice-Activated Technology to Leverage Home-Based Care
There are many digital advancements to support home-based care—communication via email, phone and text messaging, as well as tools that allow for enhanced collaboration across providers to better integrate care—but the value of voice-activated technology in this capacity is still emerging; yet, the possibilities seem endless.
For complex health issues like chronic illness that require steadfast dedication from patients to stay on top of their disease, voice-activated devices could provide an easy solution to help patients better manage their illness and not feel so overwhelmed at the task.
A person could walk into their home and simply ask a device to reorder a prescription, or be prompted by the device to check their blood levels or schedule a follow up appointment with a physician. A large component of successfully managing chronic illness and sustaining health is providing patients with the tools to help them effectively do so. Voice-activated technology in the home could fit that bill by helping patients better adhere to strict care regimes.
Individuals with mobility impairment perhaps have the most to gain from this innovation where voice commands could greatly extend care and support and alleviate many of the burdens that come with having limited mobility.
Smart phones do offer many of the same capabilities that early devices like Echo provide but the small screens can prove problematic for some patients, such as seniors, or can be difficult to utilize for individuals with physical limitations.
What the Future Holds
As home-based care becomes more mainstream and the benefits become more evident, technological advancements, like the voice-activated home, will be needed to further support home care and meet the growing population of homebound patients and their caregivers.
Companies are already configuring how to leverage Amazon Echo’s voice-activation technology to better support the work of caregivers and their home-based patients who are living with complex health issues. For example Boston-based software company Orbita is utilizing the voice interface of Echo to develop a technology that will help home health care agents streamline their work so that they can focus on caring for their patients.
It’s still early but Echo has certainly set the stage for the voice-activated home. From a healthcare perspective, the field looks ripe with opportunity for innovators to get creative and make an impact in how voice-activated technology can play a bigger role in the care of the growing home-based patient population.