“Alexa, my heart rate is 200 bpm” — Are you excited? Kickoff blog series on Personal Assistants in Telehealth

Over the past two months, I investigated how Personal Assistants (PAs) such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home can provide benefits to Telehealth. A typical use case in distant health is a patient measuring vitals such as body weight or heart rate at home and sending them over to a caretaker or doctor for monitoring. So far, existing solutions mostly rely on visual input from classic notepads and SMS or apps on the patient’s smartphone. Considering that many Telehealth patients are seniors who are technology averse and physically restricted, existing User Interfaces seem neither a natural nor a viable solution.

Obviously, a voice input is more natural. However, only recent progression in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing make it possible to have fluent conversations with the PA, as variations in utterances of the user are recognized and handled.

Although the project is about a general software architecture that utilizes PAs for Telehealth, the proof of concept centers around one particular PA, namely Amazon Alexa. The three dominant selection factors were the effectiveness of the AI engine, developer-friendliness and installation costs. Whereas Alexa and Google Home score very high on the first two, the competitive advantage of Amazon Alexa is its low setup costs. An Amazon Echo Dot costs only £50, whereas the cheapest Google Alternative is about three times as expensive. Particularly, for distant health, the low hardware costs are crucial, as patients and healthcare providers can be reluctant to high spendings on technology.

In the next blog posts, I will walk you through different steps of the development process, how I developed and linked an Alexa Skill to existing solutions but also how to develop a standalone product. I also strive to provide non-technical posts that advise on implementing PAs, backed by technical arguments.

While waiting for my next posts, let me know whether you would set up Alexa for your grandmother!

About the author:
I am an entrepreneurially-minded MSc. Computer Science student at University College London. Priorly I studied Business and worked in the consulting and StartUp-sphere. This summer, I have the unique opportunity to dive very deep into the topic of Personal Assistants in Telehealth, fully supported by UCL and NHS Digital UK. I want to give back, so I strive to provide unique insights to my readers, from a technical and non-technical perspective.

Also, check out my StartUp Permitly. ;)