Can Smart Speakers Improve the Patient Experience at Hospitals?
By Remi Gurak
Hospital stays are never fun. Patients are already stressed, scared and concerned before setting foot in the building. And after being admitted, most hospital experiences come with a host of small annoyances, including limited mobility, a lack of choice around food options or a television remote that gets misplaced.
While we can’t change why a patient is in the hospital, we can use technology to make their experience more comfortable. That’s why in 2016, a team of user experience designers and developers at The DICE Group began exploring potential use cases for smart speakers in patient care and eventually created the first HIPAA-compliant smart device for hospital rooms.
Improving patient experiences through voice technology
Our Smart Rooms device combines the features of a commercial smart speaker with hospital-specific features and information. It’s designed to comfort and support patients, act as a companion during their stay and give them more control over their environment.
On the surface, a speaker in a patient room could function similarly to one in the home, allowing users to control the environment, browse entertainment options and search the internet. But if you dig a bit deeper, it turns out the potential is nearly limitless.
For example, imagine being admitted to the hospital. When you walk into your room, you have a smart speaker that connects to a Jefferson app on your smartphone and lets you set personal preferences for your environment, like the temperature or the lights.
Additionally, your device connects to your electronic medical record (EMR), allowing you to ask about procedures or tests, hear more about results and communicate directly with your care team. The experience is fully personalized to meet your needs.
We envision a world where smart speakers can help care teams and hospitals function more efficiently. In this future, physicians will be able to leave messages for their patients and quickly and easily add notes into charts while in the room. Nurses will be able to communicate with transport or dietary staff, send patients reminders for self-care routines and record patient information directly into the speaker.
One of the main benefits of this technology is that it will make routine tasks like these easier and more seamless for hospital staff. This will allow care teams to spend more time with patients, helping them feel more at ease during their stay.
Results from our first pilot
After two years of user research, ideation and development, DICE deployed its first smart speaker in March 2019 at Jefferson’s Methodist Hospital for a pilot test.
The devices in this initial pilot offered general skills to improve a patient’s hospital stay like date, time, weather, calculator, TV control and internet search. There were also a few hospital-specific skills, like information about hospital logistics and prescribed diets.
We enrolled 41 patients to use the devices throughout our pilot. Afterward, we distributed surveys and spoke to them in person to better understand their experience with our device.
Most people who participated were only on the floor for one or two nights. Despite the short stays, there was an average of 30 interactions with the speaker per patient.
The most popular use among patients was TV control, which allowed patients to set the channel, change the volume and turn the TV on and off. All patients who used the device and took our survey said that they would recommend the smart speaker to a friend who was coming to the hospital.
What the future holds for Smart Rooms
After the pilot at Methodist Hospital, the team partnered with Magee Rehabilitation Hospital to explore potential use cases for Smart Rooms among a population with more acute needs.
Magee is a rehabilitation hospital where patients typically have longer stays and more limited mobility. These factors mean that this population of patients is likely to have more needs and unique use cases for the Smart Rooms device.
We believe that focusing on a population of users with more specific needs will help us design a more inclusive smart speaker, which will help us build a better device for all users.
We will begin by conducting user-centered research consisting of interviews, observation, and shadowing patients and staff to understand what it’s like at the hospital. By doing this type of research, we will be able to identify the wants and needs for this specific population, as well as the challenges they face. Uncovering this information is crucial to building a tool that will be helpful and intuitive for our users.
As we continue exploring and building for new patient populations, our devices will become more robust in their skills and offerings. We foresee integrating the devices with different systems in the hospital so that one day, patients will be fully connected to their health information and care teams through their Smart Rooms device.
Remi works as a Design Researcher at The DICE Group at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. She spends her days working closely with patients and staff to understand their problems and build intuitive products that improve their day-to-day lives. When she’s not researching, she can be found embracing her other passions in the kitchen, checking out local breweries or exploring Philadelphia by foot.