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How the Healthcare System Can Utilize Voice Technology for Seniors

October 21, 2020 by Intuition Robotics Team

In the last few years alone, the use of voice technology has rapidly expanded. In fact, according to data from VoiceBot.Ai, as of April 2020, nearly 90 million Americans owned a smart speaker. That’s roughly 34% of the total US population. In an earlier Voicebot.Ai survey from June 2019, they found that over 20% of smart speaker owners are age 60 and up — and about 47% of those owners among the 60+ group use their smart speakers every day. As voice technology continues to gain popularity, these numbers will only continue to grow.

One of the upsides of this pandemic is that it’s been a major catalyst for tech adoption among seniors — a July 2020 survey from healthinsurance.com found that 61% of seniors embraced technology more due to the pandemic, and that telemedicine use increased by a whopping 300%. Not only has COVID-19 has made us realize some of the substantial benefits that voice technology can provide for isolated seniors (and everyone else, to boot), it’s also shown us that seniors are very willing and able to adopt new technology.

Still, the true potential of voice has yet to come to fruition — especially in terms of remote care, and the eldercare system at large. There’s a lot more that the healthcare system can do with voice to provide better, more effective care for seniors — in periods of social distancing, and far beyond. Let’s take a closer look at why voice technology is so advantageous for seniors, what health-related features voice brings to the table, and how we can expect the role of voice to evolve within the future of eldercare.

 

Why is voice technology so beneficial for eldercare?senior woman using smart speaker in kitchen

Voice technology has a number of qualities that make it a valuable solution for older adults. For one, it’s relatively straightforward and easy-to-use — it’s hands-free, thus eliminating the need to deal with tiny buttons, confusing UI, and tough-to-decipher text. It’s also quite convenient, affordable, and user-friendly (although it can take some initial trial and error for those with less experience using technology to grasp how to communicate with it).

Furthermore, for isolated seniors, having something to converse with can help keep feelings of loneliness at bay (as well as the massive health repercussions ensued). While ElliQ incorporates much more than just a voice user interface (VUI) alone, our research thus far has shown that conversing with ElliQ provided older adults with a much-needed sense of comfort and acknowledgement, especially as they sheltered in place amid COVID-19. Other research by SoundMind found that seniors conversing with smart speakers for 6 months experienced a 44% decrease in depression.

As far as the healthcare system goes, voice technology offers health providers the ability to remotely support senior patients’ health needs and concerns, to communicate, engage, and educate them, and to extend the overall reach of their care into the home, 24/7. This is particularly favorable for seniors living with chronic conditions (80% of older adults in the US, according to the National Council on Aging).

All the above reasons make voice technology one of the ideal mechanisms for healthcare professionals to explore and incorporate throughout their approach to eldercare. Voice offers health providers the ability to keep older adult patients informed and connected from afar, to support patients in independently maintaining their health at home, around the clock. So, how exactly can providers use voice to support their senior patients’ needs? The following are some of the ways in which voice can be utilized for eldercare, but they’re really just a jumping off point — the possibilities are endless.

 

Communication and conversation

Perhaps one of the most important ways in which the healthcare system can utilize voice tech for seniors is as a direct channel of communication. Whether it’s to quickly send messages directly between providers and patients, patients and their loved ones, or within the care team, voice provides a simple, easily accessible means of getting in touch, giving everyone involved in the care process some much-needed peace of mind.

It can also provide isolated seniors something to converse with, which can help alleviate feelings of loneliness (and the massive health impacts associated). We’ve seen this first-hand through our research with ElliQ, and others have as well. Abbeyfield, Greenwood Campbell, and the University of Reading found that all older adult participants in their research experienced a decrease in loneliness living with Google Home. So whether it’s to communicate with doctors, loved ones, or to chat with the VUI itself, in isolating times like these, voice has a lot to offer.

 

Health information and resourcessmart speaker for COVID-19 remindersWe live in an era of fake news and widespread misinformation — and unfortunately, health information can be just as susceptible to this. From symptoms and side effects, to health protocols, to general health-related questions, we all need access to reliable information from credible resources. For this, voice can be a powerful tool. According to VoiceBot.Ai, today, more than 19 million people in the US actively use voice assistants to access health information.

Voice would help senior patients easily access the health information they need from trusted, official sources — like how Alexa partnered with the NHS, Mayo Clinic, and ShareCare to provide health answers amid the pandemic. Providers could also use voice to send patients personalized health resources, as well as answers to common questions and concerns, straight from their office into the home. This would be particularly advantageous for patients with chronic conditions, before and after surgeries, or during pre- and post-acute care.

 

Health reminders

We can all be a bit forgetful from time to time — and as we age and our cognitive abilities start to naturally debilitate, we tend to become even more forgetful. Voice technology could eliminate this issue by providing older adult patients with consistent, optimally-timed reminders. These reminders would help encourage them to develop and maintain healthy habits, as well as assist with adhering to their care plan, and taking a more active, hands-on role in their overall health.

By setting up health reminders via voice, providers could help ensure that their older adult patients do in fact stick to their care plan, and remember to partake in healthy behaviors throughout the day. Some specific examples include reminders to: get some physical activity, drink water, watch their sugar intake, track their blood pressure or blood glucose levels, and to take their medication (explained more in-depth below).

 

Medication adherencesenior woman taking medicationAs noted above, roughly 80% of older adults in the US live with a chronic condition, and 77% have at least two of them. Now, that’s a whole lot of medication. Though taking prescriptions properly might seem like a simple task, it’s actually quite the contrary — in fact, according to U.S. Pharmacist, adherence rates need to be around 80% or more for optimal efficacy, yet it’s estimated that adherence to chronic medications is only about 50%. In the US, nonadherence can also account for up to 50% of treatment failures, 125,000 deaths, and 25% of hospitalizations each year.

Of course, the more prescriptions a patient needs, the more room there is for error. Whether it’s taking their prescriptions at the wrong time or cadence, confusing the dosage, or simply forgetting to pick up a prescription in the first place — voice could definitely help diminish these issues. Providers could easily employ voice to ensure proper medication adherence, by reminding patients when it’s time to take their medication, offering daily explanations of their medication protocols, checking in to see if they’ve refilled their prescriptions on time, and even to understand if patients are experiencing any side effects.

 

Fall and emergency detection

Another crucial, albeit potentially obvious way in which voice can be used to support older adult patients remotely is as a tool for emergency prevention. Because voice is hands-free, it’s very beneficial to accommodate patients that have fallen or are indisposed in a way that limits their ability to physically call for help.

Through simple voice commands (as well as integrations with wearables), voice technology can act as a personal emergency response system (PERS), detecting emergencies and abnormalities, calling for help, and notifying patients’ care providers and/or loved ones accordingly, all in real time. When it comes to emergencies, voice can be — quite literally — a lifesaver.

 

Health surveys and check-inssenior woman using smart speaker at homeLast, but certainly not least, voice tech can be a great tool for surveying older adult patients at scale. Providers could use voice to send patients health and wellness-related surveys and questionnaires at the cadence of their choosing — whether it’s daily check-ins surrounding their mood, sleep, and/or pain levels, or more in-depth questions on a weekly or monthly basis — to gain insight into their patients’ health at home.

Thus, voice would give providers a more complete picture of their older adult patients’ health (both longitudinal and in real time), so that they can quickly understand atypical data, and alter patients’ care plans as needed. Voice-delivered surveys could help the healthcare system with clinical trials, as well as the ability to understand patients’ social determinants of health (SDOH), prevent hospitalizations, and otherwise.

 

In this “new norm,” of remote eldercare, voice is here to stay

Though there’s no telling where exactly this pandemic will take us, it’s increasingly clear that most of the technology we’ve come to embrace — remote care and telemedicine, in particular — is here to stay, and that voice will remain a powerful tool throughout the years to come.

From preventing emergencies and hospitalizations, to health and medication reminders, voice technology has a lot to offer health providers, seniors, and the entire healthcare ecosystem at large.

We’re excited to see where voice tech will take us, and seeing its true potential begin to unfold. Hopefully soon, more healthcare systems will begin to incorporate voice as part of their approach to remote eldercare, transcending the reach of care far beyond the office and clinic, and into the home.