Amazon announced Monday senior living communities and health systems will be able to use the Alexa voice assistant at scale in their facilities starting next month.
The expansion of Alexa Smart Properties, also used for businesses like hotels, vacation rentals and offices, will allow healthcare providers to communicate with patients without needing to enter their rooms. Patients can also control devices in their room, listen to news or music and get hospital-provided information like the cafeteria menu or when rounds are supposed to start.
Residents in senior living facilities can more easily call their family members, and their care teams are able to make community-wide announcements, like sending schedules or updated event information.
On the privacy front, Amazon said the Alexa healthcare and senior living tools don’t require personal information to use the devices, and voice recordings aren’t saved.
Liron Torres, head of Alexa Smart Properties at Amazon, said Alexa frees providers to focus on higher level care.
“If you’re a patient at a hospital, let’s say you need another blanket. So you usually press a button or something like that, or call the nurse. The nurse then has to come into the room, ask what it is that you need, understand the blanket request and then go and get that blanket, and come back. And that’s several trips back and forth,” she said.
“With Alexa, patients can ask for the blanket. That request would then go through Alexa into whatever system the nurse is using. […] Then they can respond in their own voice to that patient saying, ‘Yes, I received your request. The blanket is on its way.’ And Alexa would transfer that response back to the patient.”
WHY IT MATTERS
The COVID-19 pandemic took a heavy toll on healthcare workers. A Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post survey published in April found 62% of frontline healthcare workers reported that worry or stress related to COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health.
More than half of hospital workers said their workplaces’ ICUs were over their capacity, and one third said their hospitals and nursing homes had run out of personal protective equipment for employees at some point during the pandemic.
“One of the things that we kept hearing over and over from these communities and from healthcare systems was that we’re understaffed, we’re really stretched, we need tools to help us still provide that high level of care that we would like to provide while still not disturbing our processes,” Torres said.
THE LARGER TREND
Amazon isn’t a new player in the healthcare and digital health space. Last month, it launched Alexa Together, a subscription service allowing family members and other caregivers to check in on loved ones in their homes.
It also released a new wearable, the Halo View, plus workout classes and a nutrition and meal planning tool.
“Our goal is that anywhere that customers ask for Alexa, we really want her to be there. And so healthcare is not different,” Torres said. “Health settings, senior living communities – they’re definitely a big part of our lives or our family’s lives, and we definitely want to be there and offer our solutions to customers who are asking for them.”