The Problem: Looking for Healthcare Support in Many Places

Consumers looking for healthcare information and guidance generally have to access several different sources to find what they are looking for in order to manage and maintain their health or the health of their family. Many of these sources may not be trustworthy. COVID-19 misinformation has been spread on several social media sites, even with close inspection of site content by the social media vendors.

This is a significant problem with the current pandemic we are experiencing. Consumers must be able to access reputable healthcare information from trusted sources that are up to date and easily accessed. Perhaps the issue is that consumers are driven to look for the information they are seeking instead of being presented with the information they need. This emerges as a larger challenge for consumers who are managing the healthcare of their children, siblings, and parents.

Most providers create patient portals to provide consumers with healthcare information regarding their services, functions for managing healthcare services, and general medical content that is from trusted sources. While most consumers have access to a patient portal supplied by their providers, the usage of these environments is low.[1] In many cases, that lack of use is related to poor design and intuitiveness and poor marketing by the provider organization. A solution is emerging in the form of smart home assistants. What if providers could create interoperability between their patient portal services and the smart home assistants?

The Solution: Smart Home Assistants Supplement Provider Services

Smart home assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomePod are being developed to support healthcare services for their customers. All these solutions provide voice recognition services supported by AI algorithms. Alexa can present consumers with the US Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 questionnaire to assess potential COVID-19 infection and provide recommendations on what to do next to confirm or eliminate the diagnosis. The new feature arrives about a week after Apple added a version of the same feature for Siri and is one of a handful of updates made to Alexa as part of Amazon’s response to the current pandemic.[2] Amazon, Google, and Apple have each established a content-evaluation process of their catalogs to eliminate misinformation related to COVID-19.

The voice recognition/AI environments of smart home assistants are also evolving to provide additional medical support for consumers. Voice recognition applications that can potentially spot issues related to disease based on the consumer’s speech are emerging.[3]

The audio test for potential COVID-19 infection covered by VoiceBot two weeks ago is now available to the public. “The COVID Voice Detector test, created in a partnership between enterprise voice assistant developer and Carnegie Mellon University, analyzes the probability of a user’s infection by examining the sound of their voice and cough.”[4]

The Justification: Intuitive Voice-Driven Healthcare Solutions Are the Future

Voice recognition–enabled consumer solutions provide intuitive user interfaces that require little training to drive adoption. Providers who pursue interoperability with smart home assistants will advance their patient engagement services exponentially. Companies such as Apple have readily endorsed FHIR APIs for connecting their products to other environments. A provider strategy for interfacing these home devices with patient portals should be evaluated to determine how to improve patient services.

A future smart home assistant capability will be the ability of the devices to capture and manage consumer information from smart watches and other smart devices for healthcare-consumers. Imagine the value of consumer data consistently captured for blood pressure, temperature, and O2 saturation that could be shared with providers from these devices.

The Players: Big Tech Companies Create an Oligopoly

Collectively, Amazon, Google, and Baidu control over 60% of the smart home device (speaker) market.[5] Apple remains an important niche player for the US. The advances that Amazon, Google, and Apple are making relative to healthcare applications embedded in their products manifest the need for providers to create patient-focused services that support smart home solutions.

Success Factors

  1. Create smart home assistant strategies to drive interoperable data stream sharing between the provider patient portal and smart home devices.
  2. Work with HCIT enterprise vendors to determine which smart home assistants are being considered in their R&D plans.
  3. Identify key patient populations in which smart home device integration may provide a beneficial service to create prototypes for these capabilities (e.g., diabetes, CHF).


Smart home assistants continue to evolve to support and manage consumer healthcare. As this market continues to grow, it will establish an opportunity for provider organizations to assess which patients have the devices, which vendors have the highest market share, how to effectively integrate the devices with patient portals, and which diseases can be effectively managed with the devices. As Friedrich Nietzsche stated, “The future influences the present just as much as the past.” As smart home assistants establish higher volumes of connections with smart health devices (e.g., smart watches), the ability to capture and track consistent consumer health information will become extremely valuable for supporting population health. These environments will represent a reservoir of patient information to support AI algorithms for improving healthcare outcomes.

While adoption of these devices is growing, they are being purchased only by the middle to upper classes in the US. Perhaps providers can work with smart home assistant vendors to determine how to extend these solutions to lower income households to better support population and public health.






     Photo credit: Adobe Stock, Paolese