Your Personal Healthcare Companion
Call the Virtual Doctor?

It seems the UK isn’t the only country frustrated at the state of their healthcare system. American businesses have also voiced their concerns over the rapidly spiralling cost of medical treatment.

This has led to the allegiance of some of America’s biggest corporations, including Amazon, to team up to form their own independent healthcare company for employees, based on data that they’ve gathered themselves (perhaps world domination is next?!)

And if the venture indeed launches and becomes integrated within the company, how long will it be until Amazon rolls out the system to the wider consumer?

Virtual Healthcare Assistants?

Amazon is one of several large tech companies who’ve ventured in to the world of virtual assistants, with the launch of Amazon Alexa in November 2014.

The voice-responsive AI can be called upon to assist with all sorts of digital tasks such as prompting connected apps or ordering products online. Amazon have been able to learn the behaviours and preferences of the consumer, and have drawn data from these statistics that have led them to them confidently moving into the world of healthcare.

Given that many people already “self-diagnose” using websites such as WebMD to validate their symptoms, (you can also activate this site using a virtual assistant such as Alexa or Google Home), it wouldn’t be unthinkable to imagine a time where we seek medical advice from the comfort of our own homes.

Assisted Care

Having access to fast, effective medical solutions solves healthcare system issues such as a lack of workforce and wait time, and potentially reduce the spread of disease.

Home health aides are testing the use of Amazon’s Echo platform to assist elderly patients. They are finding this system gives clients more access to family members and assistance to ensure they get their medication on time. Other tech companies are now rushing to capitalise on this opportunity and provide similar services.

Ethical Implications

But what about the challenges? It would be both illegal and morally wrong to sell prescription drugs next to toys and household products. AI could potentially obtain inaccurate data leading to misdiagnosis or ineffective advice. There’s also the loss of human interaction, resulting in an impersonal experience, a lack of empathy and trust, and potentially increased paranoia around sickness.

Privacy Concerns

“What we’re seeing is going to be a whole new look at privacy. HIPAA regulations … [are] 20 years old — and they don’t even take into account the technology and the data processing capability that we have today. There have to be a lot of adjustments before this becomes part of routine practice.” – Dr Eric Topol Scripps Health.

What the Health Tech Experts Think

Here’s how some experts believe an Amazon healthcare system might be adopted:

“Amazon, for example, might see that a customer has bought cough drops every week for the last month, and went to the doctor for a cold six weeks before but never filled his prescription. Amazon, or an “Amazon-like company” could use that kind of insight to encourage consumers to go back to the doctor, or drop by a nearby clinic for a nurse practitioner to examine them. That could solve the problem of getting the wrong care.” – Gil Irwin PwC

“One day, we could tell Echo our ailments and have recommendations and potentially some drug recommendations, which they could fulfill if they also have doctors available in live chat on an Echo Show device,” – Wendell Potter Tarbell.

AI’s and virtual assistants have been adopted into the mainstream very successfully, so it will be interesting to see how the IoT filters throughout our homes and personal lives to the point of acceptable dependency, even when it comes to our own health. We’ve noticed ourselves at Bitjam that we’re being approached by an increasing amount of businesses and researchers, including NHS, with regards to IoT projects.

What Bitjam are Doing

We have experimented with Alexa building simple question and answer skills based on health information (the core feature of Alexa). We have begun to think ahead with new products we’re developing integrating data design features for a plug and play capability into Amazon Alexa at future dates. It’s better to make small changes in data design earlier on rather than an after-thought.

To get in touch about your own IoT project, contact Carl for a chat at [email protected] (you could even tell Alexa to email him for you!)