What’s Up Wednesday | Tech Edition: Alexa for Home Caregivers

How to Create a Personalized Skill for Home Caregivers in Less than 5 Minutes!

My Life with Alexa

My morning sequence starts at 3:50 am when Alexa slowly introduces a delicate soft tone into my sleeping brain and illuminates a magical blue light onto my ceiling. Her efforts of trying to ease me into a new day are quickly interrupted by my groggy reply “Alexaaaa, snoooooze.” I never really thought about this daily interaction until one of my neighbors stopped me to ask why they have never met my roommates Alexa and Susan. Apparently, when you live in a city where the houses are thisclose, Alexa’s response of “OK, snoozing” is interpreted as “OK, Susan.”

I invited Alexa into my home a couple of months before my Dad passed away. As his primary caregiver, I wanted to have something he could enjoy interacting with daily and that could perhaps help me in return. Enter the “Ask My Buddy” skill. Ask My Buddy is an Amazon Skill that allows a person to use their voice to alert someone in their personal network that they need help via Alexa. I was my Dad’s personal network. When he said “Alexa, Ask My Buddy” the skill would confirm he wanted to ask Kate for help and within seconds I would not only receive a call indicating that he needed help, but also an email and text message — perfect as I am someone who never picks up the phone when I don’t recognize the number. Clearly, I am a big fan of this skill. As per their website, it is not meant to be a substitute for 911, but having it made him feel more comfortable and independent and in turn, helped put my mind at ease. It was that experience that sparked my interest in figuring out ways to use voice in healthcare.

Is Voice the Future of Healthcare?

Me doing my best Vanna White impression at the Voice Recognition Voice Hack at Boston Children’s Hospital. Photo credit John Blanding / The Boston Globe

In early 2016, the Innovation Digital Health Accelerator at Boston Children’s Hospital released it’s first Amazon Alexa Skill. KidsMD is an Alexa skill created to answer parents common questions about symptoms and pediatric medication dosing and the skill continues to receive positive feedback from its users. KidsMD was also the first healthcare focused skill to be developed by a healthcare organization. This release was followed by a Voice Recognition Concept Hack a month later. The event was held at the SIMPeds headquarters and showcased a few voice recognition use cases that the hospital team built. The beta skills developed for the event showed the potential as well as the challenges of the technology to the participants in a realistic simulated medical environment. Ultimately, the goal of the hack was to inspire clinicians, patients, and software engineers to think about how they would and this technology at home or in a clinical space. The idea of using Alexa in healthcare is clearly something that Amazon is interested in. They are currently building a 12 person health and wellness team within its Alexa division to try to help make the assistant useful for the healthcare sector. Imagine a surgeon being able to use voice technology to ask for lab results instead of having to break scrub to look it up on a computer. The possibilities are endless. However, with Amazon’s recent press, we can imagine that a large part of this groups focus will be on privacy initiatives to ensure that the technology will safe and compliant with HIPAA regulations. If HIPAA compliance can be achieved, I predict it will tipping point for the adoption of Alexa and other voice recognition devices in this space.

How to Develop an Alexa Skill

I am not going to go into detail here, but rather share Amazon’s resources. Do you want to publish a skill in the Amazon Alexa Skill store to share with the Amazon community? No problem! Amazon actually has a very informative developers site to help educate all levels of programmers on the ins and outs of creating an Alexa skill and how to publish it. There are a ton of resources available and so many folks willing to help you through the process. Scroll through the store to get inspired and if publishing a cool skill is the desired outcome and you have the drive to make it happen, I say go for it!

Blueprints | Amazon’s Templated Skill Creator

Let’s face it, taking the time to learn how to create an Alexa skill is something the majority of us may not want to commit to. However, if creating a personalized skill, one that would be available for your personal Alexa enabled device(s) is of interest, Amazon has released Blueprints. Blueprints consist of 25 fill in the blank templates across four categories — At Home, Fun & Games, Storyteller, and Learning & Knowledge. How easy is it? The weekend after it was released I decided to use Blueprints with 26 students in my STEM class whose ages ranged from 6–11 years old. Within 30 minutes we had 36 personalized skills created. Although it wasn’t true coding, the experience did introduce them to the concept of voice design and boy, did they get creative!

Blueprint Templates | Customizing Templates for Caregivers

So why am I going into building Alexa Blueprint skills? The first thing I questioned when I looked at the 25 available templates is why they didn’t have a Blueprint template for caregivers. I actually initially called this article Wanted: An Alexa Blueprint for Caregivers. So what do you do when something you want isn’t available? You work with what you have and create it yourself!

Although you can create your own Blueprint from scratch, I decided to use an existing template called Babysitter for this example and edited it for a fictional pediatric patient in the home environment. After I accessed the Amazon Blueprints website, I just signed into Blueprints using my Amazon username and password to access the template options. My fictional patient we will call Billy, has a complex medical history with multiple visiting nurses and rotating family members as caregivers. Accessing information is important when caring for Billy and being able to access that information using voice technology gives another level of comfort to his parents as well as his caregivers. Below is a simple run through of how easy it is to create a reference tool to care for Billy. Note: this is a quick example to show you the possibilities and is not based on evidence-based practices.

Video using Amazon Blueprints to create a personalized skill for a patient

So there it is — if you can fill in a form, you can create a personalized skill like this in less than 5 minutes using an existing template. I would love to see Amazon (hint, hint) add a template specifically for caregivers but until then you can repurpose an existing skill or you can customize home questions and answers template to add even more personalization to your skill. This is just one example of how voice can be used in the patient care environment — and it is so easy to execute!

Advancing the Adoption of Voice Technology in Healthcare

If you are interested in learning more about how voice is being used in healthcare considere joining me at the Voice.Health Summit on October 17th, 2018 ! This event is a full-day, co-located partner event of the Connected Health Conference being held at the Seaport Hotel in Boston, MA. To learn more visit: http://www.voice.health/summit/

Voice.Health Summit 2018

Founded in 2018, the Voice Technology in Healthcare Initiative seeks to accelerate the adoption of voice-assisted technologies in healthcare. From consumers interacting through voice interfaces to learn about their health and engage with the health system, to physicians using voice technology to assist in administrative tasks and care delivery — and everything in between — we seek to provide resources for entrepreneurs, technologists, clinicians, and more.

This Voice.health site is brought to you by the team at Boston Children’s Hospital Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator, who is implementing several iterations of voice technology in their own community. It is supported by dotHealth, the official registry of .health domain names.

Feel free to share some of your ideas how you would use voice in healthcare in the comments.

  • Information about the CareAline wraps that were referenced in the video example can be found at https://carealine.com/