The Future of Sound + Voice: Healthcare

Hospitals are noisy, but well-crafted sound can help create a calmer environment

Sound and voice can play a critical role in improving the impact and quality of our healthcare experiences. From the noisy hospital environment to the convoluted prescription fulfillment process, there are a wide range of opportunities to make healthcare processes more accessible and streamlined, cutting costs and reducing stress for both consumers and providers.

Noise can have a damaging impact on wellbeing, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, and disrupting sleep. (3) Imagine the sounds of the hospital environment. Whether it’s the emergency, surgery, or recovery room, there’s a constant soundtrack of jarring alerts, loud beeps and whooshes emitted by medical devices. Now imagine if the monitors and pumps that fill up the room were designed with sounds that serve their critical attention-getting functions, but with more harmonious tonalities that promote a focused and reassuring environment.

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Well-crafted medical device sounds can have positive health benefits. Researchers and designers like the Critical Alarms Lab in the Netherlands are working with hospitals and medical device makers to develop new standards and create sounds that reduce noise and improve overall experience. (4) Many device makers are investing more in the user experience of sound, such as global medical technology company Medtronic designing sound for their bedside heart monitor that will soon enter the market. (5)

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However, it’s not all devices. One of the most promising white spaces for sound in healthcare may be the use of voice recognition to optimize electronic medical records. The process of dictating and transcribing notes by hand is laborious, but hospitals and healthcare providers are beginning to leverage voice technology to speed up the process, saving doctors hours per day. This practice will only increase as 9 out of 10 hospitals say they’re planning to expand their use of voice recognition. (8)

“Voice-enabled technologies are going to change the way that healthcare information is collected, exchanged, tracked, and accessed by consumers and healthcare providers. Consumers will be providing more data about how they are doing between visits, providers will have visibility into how the patient is doing at home and be able to provide them with real-time, personalized information in their homes.” – Dr. John Brownstein, PhD, Chief Innovation Officer, Boston Children’s Hospital (9)

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Consumers are already using voice technology to address their basic health concerns by using voice search to check symptoms or treatment-related questions. Zyrtec has developed an Amazon Alexa skill that informs the user of the pollen count and predominant allergens in their area. Mayo Clinic’s First Aid skill for Alexa provides self-care instructions for treating medical issues that may require first aid. Amazon partnered with Giant Eagle Pharmacy to roll out a medicine management skill that allows consumers to schedule reminders to take medications and refill prescriptions. Seeking to ensure HIPAA compliance to protect consumers’ personal medical data, the Alexa skill uses voice recognition to verify access. (14)

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Voice assistants can also empower physically challenged consumers and provide greater independence due to their simplicity and lack of reliance on fine motor skills. Healthcare providers can also connect with patients in their homes and, as the technology advances, use voice recognition to analyze patients’ speech patterns to help pinpoint diseases. (15) There is profound potential to not only improve the quality of experience but also equity and accessibility to healthcare through sound and voice.

Written by Paul Amitai, Executive Strategy Director
Published June 2020



References
(1) Sullivan, Tom, “Why 2018 is the year of voice tech in healthcare,” Healthcare IT News, 2018.
(2) "Voice Assistants in Healthcare," Business Insider Intelligence, 2019.
(3) Halperin, Demian, “Environmental noise and sleep disturbances: A threat to health?,” Sleep Science (Nov 15, 2014).
(4) Rueb, Emily S., “To Reduce Hospital Noise, Researchers Create Alarms That Whistle and Sing,” The New York Times (Jul 9, 2019).
(5) Boodman, Eric, “Anatomy of a beep: A medical device giant and an avant-garde musician set out to redesign a heart monitor’s chirps,” STAT (Sep 10, 2018).
(6) "Patients and Providers Turn to Voice Technology in Healthcare," Everyday Health, 2019.
(7) Global Web Index, 2019.
(8) KLAS Research, 2017.
(9)Vernadakis, George, “Patients and Providers Turn to Voice Technology in Healthcare,” Everyday Health (Feb 07, 2019).
(10) "Voice Assistants in Healthcare," Business Insider Intelligence, 2019.
(11) "Voice Search for Local Business Study," Bright Local, 2018.
(12) Global Web Index, 2019.
(13) Cohen, Jessica Kim, “AI voice assistants ‘listen in’ on patient visits to ease the EHR burden,” Modern Healthcare, 2019.
(14) “New ways to manage your medications at home using Alexa,” The Amazon Blog, 2019.
(15) Voice Assistants in Healthcare, Business Insider Intelligence, 2019.
(16) KLAS Research, 2017.


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