Using voice technology to power more engaging digital health experiences

Using voice technology to power more engaging digital health experiences

An interview with Orbita founder and CEO Bill Rogers

by Sara Holoubek

Nearly half of Americans use digital voice assistants, and U.S. smart speaker sales doubled last year. Voice technology is changing the way we experience entertainment, shopping, and in some cases, healthcare.

Even before we designed and produced the 2017 Alexa Diabetes Challenge, on behalf of Merck and in partnership with Amazon, we were considering the transformative power of conversational interfaces in health and beyond. Orbita founder and CEO Bill Rogers, a leading expert in voice-first solutions for healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, supported the challenge by providing insights and resources to participants.

Bill and I share an interest in helping companies focus on what can be done, not what can’t be done — pushing the envelope while mitigating risk. That’s why we’re sharing insights from our work in emerging technology and digital health in a webinar next week. In advance of the virtual event, I spoke with Bill about how voice-first technology can drive innovation in health.

Orbita founder and CEO BIll Rogers

Orbita founder and CEO Bill Rogers

We’re seeing significant growth and consumer adoption of voice technology. What makes conversational interfaces of particular interest in healthcare? What’s the potential?

The promise of digital healthcare has been the application of technology to reach, engage, and empower patients at home. The problem is that most digital healthcare apps fail on the engagement front. Simply stated, not everyone can use a mobile or web app, and many digital health devices are intimidating or hard to use. Voice changes the game. Everyone has a voice and it is one of the last facilities you lose as you age. Voice-powered digital health solutions dramatically reduce the barriers to engagement by providing an intuitive, hands-free care experience that can be delivered over smart speakers (like the Amazon Echo or Google Home), mobile and web apps, and custom healthcare devices.

Last month, we discussed voice tech in health and pharma at MM&M’s Transforming Healthcare conference, and you shared some interesting examples. Tell us about some of the applications already in use.

The first wave are consumer voice apps or “skills” for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Many, many more are coming. We worked with the Mayo Clinic to build a consumer skill that answers general questions about first aid. Libertana, a residential home care agency, uses Orbita to power a voice assistant for elder residents to receive care plan reminders, message care attendants, and ask questions about schedules and events. We’re working with several large pharmas and clinical research organizations on voice solutions to improve participant engagement and data collection for clinical trials. And there are many more.

Despite the hype and the potential, we’re still in the early days of voice tech. HIPAA compliance and privacy is still a big question, and there are other challenges. What’s possible today, and what does the future hold?

Privacy and security are important concerns. A major sticking point for many organizations is the fact that Amazon Alexa is not HIPAA compliant. This means that Amazon won’t sign (yet) a business associate agreement. We know this will change. It’s a matter of time. Until that happens, Orbita supports a reference security model that uses a method of user “de-identification” to protect patient data. This works even through Alexa, and we have a number of projects in place that will leverage this model. Still, we are walking before we run when it comes to applications that involve protected health information.

Let’s say you’re not ready to run a large-scale effort. How can healthcare companies get started?

When are healthcare companies ever ready to start with a “large-scale effort” on day one? It is, and remains, the industry of the pilot. Not to be flippant, but we generally advocate a phased approach with three “Ps” — Prototype, Pilot, Production — in that order. Identify a specific pain point or problem, then leverage voice technology as part of the solution. We’ve seen several customers start with a single smaller project. Once they realized the power and value of voice, it didn’t take long for them to bring on additional projects across various parts of their organizations to address both business process and clinical needs.

When navigating new technologies or approaches, partnership is often key. Are you seeing any interesting partnerships in voice tech and health?

It is very similar to the first couple waves of digital health, specifically patient portals and mobile health. The most valuable partnerships are the ones that complete the story for how voice tech can transform healthcare. For Orbita, content partnerships that allow us to bring clinically vetted content and care plans to our customers are one way we can present complete, high-value solutions. For example, we’ve partnered with the Mayo Clinic to deliver their health and wellness content through our Orbita Voice platform.

What advice would you give to organizations exploring partnership opportunities?

Identify and solve the most important problems first, but do not lose the big-picture view of the potential for voice. Orbita is a platform for building and managing voice experiences in healthcare — not a “point solution.” Our development and deployment partners see the potential of a voice-first, conversational AI platform for healthcare. Whether focused on pharma, payers, providers, or device makers, these partners are most valuable to us and our clients.

Join us for next week’s webinar and sign up for the Lab Report newsletter for more insights.

Are you attending next month’s VOICE Summit? Bill and Sara are among the 150+ speakers who will discuss conversational AI in different industries.