Amazon Echo: The Newest Addition to Your Healthcare Team?

Published July 21, 2016

While in a big box electronics store last weekend, I gravitated toward the new “Connected Home” department. Traditional, large electronics manufacturers showcased offerings that allowed me, through either my voice or via phone, to turn on my lights, change a thermostat temperature, or activate a security camera at my front door. All the capabilities seemed interesting, but none helped me with life-pressing needs. Then across the aisle, I noticed her. Her name was Alexa, and I knew I would be bringing her home. At first, we talked about the weather, sports scores, and shared music interests. But I couldn’t help but think about where this relationship could go – for me and for millions of others.

Alexa, otherwise known as the Amazon Echo, has the opportunity to revolutionize healthcare at home. Waste in the United States healthcare system is staggering— in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Up to one in four patients is re-admitted to a hospital after being discharged; twenty to thirty percent of hospitalizations are avoidable, and in excess of half of emergency room visits may be unnecessary. As in most inefficient systems, simple changes drive the most improvement. Better care coordination, proactive patient engagement, and easy access to just-in-time information at home can eliminate billions of dollars of waste. Centering these activities where most people spend the majority of their lives—at home—is absolutely necessary. And technology is the bridge we need to move the center of care from expensive, acute facilities to where patients want to be – at home.

Let’s look at the billions of dollars in waste due to hospital re-admissions post-discharge. We know that the primary causes for re-admission are related to a patient’s inability to understand discharge orders, manage medications, receive the necessary follow-up treatment, or understand and act on potential warning signs.  Imagine the support Alexa could provide: “Alexa, what are my discharge tasks for today?“ “Alexa, can I take drug X with drug Y?” “Alexa, will you order me drug X for home delivery?” “Alexa, please order me an Uber or Lyft.” “Alexa, should I be worried about my swelling ankles?”

Alexa could add an entirely new dimension to what is possible in patient care management at home. It simplifies, ensures and, through innovative technology, actually personalizes the in-home experience. Amazon is not alone in this initiative – AppleSamsungQualcomm and others are quickly entering the connected home space. The winners and losers are yet to be determined.

It goes without saying that virtual, connected, and continuous care at home is the future of healthcare. Next time I have a health question, I plan to go first to “Nurse Alexa”.