Introduction to medical voice assistants. What use cases do exist and what are their benefits?

The use cases for voice assistants in healthcare are varied and cover a wide range of needs. They have the potential to revolutionise the relationship between healthcare providers and patients, as well as the way care is delivered.

In recent years, AI virtual assistants have become increasingly popular, becoming part of our daily lives. Equipped with machine learning algorithms and natural language processing, they help transform everyday actions, whether to provide support or facilitate tasks.

Within virtual assistants, those which are voice-based have been a great revolution, as they have achieved enormous penetration in a very short time. According to the II Estudio sobre Voz y Audio en España, carried out by Soluciones Estratégicas de Investigación de Mercados (SEIM) and Prodigioso Volcán, more than 56% of the Internet population in our country currently use them.

But why have they become so popular? Largely because voice technology offers a natural form of human-machine interaction, allowing people of all ages and different levels of technological skills to easily access information. In addition, voice assistants engage in direct conversations through language interfaces, which contributes to a more human interaction, improving the user’s perception.

The impact of voice assistants (VAs) on everyday actions is clear and known to all, but what happens when this technology is integrated into other fields, such as the healthcare system? Let’s take a look at the benefits VAs bring to healthcare, and how they are transforming the care continuum.

Voice-based virtual assistant in healthcare

It is well known that the health system is facing a problem of sustainability, stemming from the lack of health professionals and their high burden of work, elevated costs and the ageing of the population. To reduce care costs and achieve better health outcomes, the healthcare sector is currently focusing on improving process efficiency and increasing patient engagement, especially through the digitisation of services.

In this sense, VAs have the potential to revolutionise the relationship between healthcare providers and patients, as well as the way care is delivered. Their integration within the care process allows the healthcare industry to create simpler, friendlier and more personalised journeys for their patients, in which they feel accompanied and involved in the entire process.  VAs are never developed with the intention of replacing human interaction, but rather to serve as a tool for meeting patients’ growing expectations of truly useful digital experiences and for making clinicians’ work easier, faster and more efficient. Hence, the success of any voice assistant in healthcare comes down to user experiences, which must be conversational, intuitive, natural and with a strong empathic component.

But what real use cases do we find in the healthcare industry and what benefits does it bring to the system? Let’s dive a little deeper!

Use cases for voice-based virtual assistants in healthcare

The use cases for voice assistants in healthcare are varied and cover a wide range of needs, but are mainly focused on two main areas: improving patient care, engagement and access to the system, and enhancing workflows to reduce the burden of care and achieve better health outcomes.

Use cases for voice-based virtual assistants in healthcare

Clinical workflow improvements: automating non-clinical tasks.

Healthcare leaders are aware that they are facing serious staff shortages. It is a challenge they have confronted for years, and it has become a critical concern, as burnout and fatigue are on the rise.  In addition, healthcare professionals spend a great deal of time on administrative work, related to documentation tasks and retrieving patient data through the EHR system.

To compensate this situation, innovative leaders are exploring new forms of digitisation to divert non-clinical tasks to the right resources. With the ability to recognise speech and convert it into text, voice assistants can automatically capture conversations between doctors and patients and record them in EHRs, so healthcare professionals can easily transcribe their notes in real time with maximum accuracy. In addition, this process can be extended to prescription management and most routine transactions, such as updating patient records or obtaining personalised reports.

Another example of the impact of digitalisation in the clinical environment is the increased use of voice assistants during hospital stays. Patients can use the bedside digital assistant to log a wide range of queries, such as increasing pain or asking for their food tray to be removed. AI technology directs each request to the best resources, routing non-clinical needs to the appropriate department. In this way, clinical needs are prioritised for healthcare staff.

Thus, VAs reduce the administrative burden on healthcare professionals and allow them to provide better clinical care, dedicate time to their patients and families, and have a direct impact on wellbeing and health outcomes. In addition, they also enable them to see more patients in a given day, which translates into expanded care and better access to the system for the general population.

Appointment Scheduling & Reminders

The number of calls staff receive daily to make appointments is extremely high, and patients are not always able to come in person to schedule appointments. The process becomes long and tedious, and some patients simply drop out. By integrating VAs into healthcare systems, patients are given the option to make an appointment through them.

The assistants extract information about available professionals, working days and time slots and help patients to schedule their appointments. In addition, they can also help to reschedule or cancel appointments, conveniently handling patient requests and saving time in appointment reservation for both the doctor and the patient.  Similarly, VAs can also be used to provide automatic appointment reminders via phone calls, helping patients to remember the date and time of their appointment and reducing no-shows at the hospital.

Medication adherence

One of the most complex and costly problems in home healthcare today is medication adherence, leading to avoidable deaths, hospitalisations and treatment failures. VAs provide important support to ensure that patients maintain their medical routines, regularly reminding them what medication to take and when, informing them of the required dosage or notifying them of refills.

In addition, patients can also interact with the assistant, letting them know what medication has been taken and easily generating an accurate medication record. This data can be tracked in real time or presented at future consultations, providing healthcare professionals with more information about their patients.

Triage and symptoms checking

VAs are able to contact patients and pose appropriate questions to assess their symptoms and health status. Then, based on the answers and data provided by the patient, they are able to discern between those patients who are in a serious condition and need interaction with clinicians, and those who do not.

An example of this use case can be found in post-discharge programmes, where nurses are required to contact patients one or two days after leaving the hospital. A mid-Atlantic health system implemented an automated post-discharge communication programme to reach out to patients and check on their well-being. The virtual assistant posed four questions, asking patients if they 1) felt well, 2) had filled their prescriptions, 3) had scheduled their follow-up appointment, and 4) understood their care plan. Those who answered “no” to any of the questions were referred to a nurse, which greatly reduced the number of calls that personnel had to make.

During the pilot project, 86% of patients interacted with the virtual assistant and responded to the questions posed. Only one third of these patients had any problem and required personal interaction with the nurses, which saved a huge amount of time and enabled them to focus attention on those with an immediate need.

Real-time Healthcare Assistance, Pre & Post Care

This is one of the most intuitive uses of voice assistants today, as many patients want faster resolution of their queries, without having to wait for a response from the hospital. Thus, they turn to VAs to get answers to questions about their particular situation. We are not talking about voice-equivalent systems to typing symptoms into a search engine, but about specialised medical content, carefully selected and approved by doctors, that can help patients in their treatment and recovery.

A good example of this would be someone who has recently undergone a surgery and wants to know the risk of getting their bandages wet if they shower. Voice assistants offer an easy and convenient way to find the answers they are looking for from crafted, scientifically accurate and up-to-date content.

Virtual assistants elevate the support experience by offering instant, automated, high-quality answers and provide 24*7 support, as they have no downtime. This use of voice assistants in healthcare will help avoid unnecessary doctor visits, hospital readmissions and medical costs.

Patient Onboarding & Engagement

In the beginning, VAs answered simple patient queries, but today they help patients find services according to their needs, broadening access to healthcare inside and outside hospitals.

VAs are characterised by their ability to learn and improve their interactions, which allows them to offer patients a personalised experience and concrete answers to their situations, helping to build a relationship of closeness and trust. In addition, they also offer a flexible and intuitive way to access technology across multiple platforms and languages, helping to amplify onboarding and engagement.

On the other hand, it also results in greater convenience and better care for hospitalised patients, as the use of virtual assistants increases their autonomy and comfort, while ensuring prompt care when needed. In addition, patients also use VAs for entertainment purposes, such as checking the weather or playing music, making hospital stays a more stress-free and “home-like” experience.

Outside the hospital, it is an option with many possibilities for elderly patients and dependents, streamlining medical care and keeping them connected to both healthcare professionals and family members.

Tucuvi´s virtual assitant as an automated solution for medical personnel.

In Tucuvi we are transforming the way healthcare is delivered by automating medical phone calls. Our empathic AI voice-based virtual asistant, Lola, assesses patients´health status though natural phone conversations, while our platform integrates with EHR and telemedicine platforms to facilitate data transmission. We strive to automate any type of clinical call, from pre-consultation calls, after surgery calls or for continuous monitoring of chronic patients at home.

Through our solution, healthcare professionals receive structured and prioritised data on their patients’ condition on a daily basis, giving them time and smarter insights to deliver the best care, and helping them know when to reach out to the right patient at the right time. Thus, better planning is achieved, improving hospitals processes efficiency and freeing up clinicians’ time. Automated calls increase the continuity of care and allow clinicians to anticipate potential relapses, reducing ER visits and readmissions.

For us, one of the most important aspects is the patients’ experience when talking to Lola. Over the years, we have spoken to more than 20,000 patients, improving our algorithms to achieve the most human-like verbal latency. In addition, we have obtained unique values in the market, reaching +95% in both accuracy and patient engagement and 4.7/5 in patient satisfaction.

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