Amazon Echo, the Bluetooth speaker and voice command device, has taken on some new roles including health advisor and fitness motivator.
While most people might think of the Echo as the speaker that can answer your questions about the weather, play music from your Pandora stations and create shopping lists for you, Amazon has found innovative new ways for the Echo to help out around the home. Several of those new capabilities can improve user health: Amazon has recently announced several partnerships that will make Echo an integrated home health and fitness tool.
In March, Amazon announced that the Echo would integrate with Fitbit devices. Users can ask "How many steps have I walked today?" or "How did I sleep?" and Alexa, the Echo's digital personal assistant, will respond with up-to-date information captured on the user's Fitbit. The Fitbit integration will also work with Echo Dot, a smaller version without the Bluetooth speakers, and Tap, a portable version of Echo. As the data syncs through the Fitbit app, this integration works with any of Fitbit's devices.
"Amazon has announced partnerships that make Echo an integrated home health and fitness tool."
The integration provides Fitbit users a simpler, more interactive interface for their fitness data. It's easier to get information while you're in a rush. Fitbit has implemented as many as 60 phrases that Alexa can use to respond to questions. While that's not much, there's great potential. Fitbit designer Tim Roberts said in a recent Forbes interview that with this integration, Alexa will one day be able to offer motivation, changing speech in order to be more effective for the user. The Fitbit team is accumulating feedback to learn more about what works for users and what they want, an integral step in the design process.
Boston Children's Hospital has launched a partnership with Amazon Echo as well. A new app called KidsMD will give Alexa the ability to give parents medical advice for their children's medications and other treatments. Parents can ask Alexa if their children's symptoms warrant calling the doctor. Alexa can also advise parents on dosage amounts based on age and weight. Jonah Comstock of Mobi Health News called the KidsMD app, "the first step in a plan to bring Boston Children's medical knowledge to the consumer space."
Eric Zeman of Information Week noted, "The ability to interact with Alexa via voice in this scenario can be particularly useful for parents of small children, because the parents may have their hands full." Similar to the University of Southern California's Virtual Care Clinic, Alexa will be able to answer the more repetitive, simpler questions, saving the users a potential trip to the hospital and freeing up doctors for more urgent, delicate work. By leveraging Alexa's artificial intelligence, Children's Hospital and Amazon are providing quality information to parents and simplifying child health care.
"Consumer devices like the Echo can be used to deliver a better experience for patients."
A smarter patient experience
Digital health evangelist David Chou highlighted two of the Echo's strengths, and how they can help in the health care field – its conversational tool, its accessibility and its sound quality. These characteristics can be used to provide a superior digital health user experience, whether it's providing smart home functions to make the hospital room more comfortable, or providing medication information at home.
Consumer devices like the Echo can be used to deliver a better experience for patients. Whether it's sharing relevant fitness information to Fitbit users for a simpler interface or providing busy parents answers to their medical questions, superior consumer health product design should focus on improving the patient experience through quality care. Helping users keep track of their fitness data and providing medical advice in the home are two big steps forward for digital health innovation.