While 75 million people in the U.S. have a smart people at home, only 1 in 13 Americans have used a voice assistant like Alexa or Google Assistant for health care.

But over one-half of consumers would like to access a voice assistant for some aspect of their health care, according to a study from Orbita and Voicebot, Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption in Healthcare.

The study polled 1,004 U.S. adults 18 and over in September 2019.

In 2019, few health care providers have adopted voice assistants into their workflows. The report calls out one big barrier to early adoption especially among hospitals and physicians: concerns about privacy and HIPAA compliance.

 

The top interest health care categories for voice assistants are asking about illness symptoms above all, cited by one-third of consumers. This was followed by finding a hospital, asking about medication information, seeking nutrition information, scheduling a visit to a doctor or hospital, connecting to a digital health device (like a Fitbit tracker or blood glucometer), finding a clinician, and researching treatment options.

Note that voice-tech for healthcare isn’t just something in which younger people are keen to use. This study found that nearly one-half of people over 60 years of age would be interested in accessing voice assistants for healthcare.

The study also asked consumers what devices people would be comfortable using for voice-tech in health care.

More popular than a smart speaker, a laptop or personal computer took first place in the device consumers would like to use as the medium for voice-assistance in health care. A fitness device or car-based assistant took the next place, followed by a smartwatch, smart TV, smart device (like a weight scale), or smart earbuds each of which garnered less than 8% of consumers interested in those form factors.

For more on the connected car as a third-space for health care, see my post from CES 2017, Your car as a mobile health platform.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  The issue of privacy and voice assistants began to reach mass media in 2018 as smart speakers became popular holiday gifts; here’s a cautionary explanation from the University of Michigan published in November 2018 just-in-time for last year’s holiday shopping season.

The last graph illustrates consumers’ concerns about privacy and voice assistants: nearly one-half of people were moderately or very concerned about privacy and smart speakers as of September 2019. Fewer than one-in five people were not concerned at all by the prospect of voice assistant privacy breaches.

The use cases for health care must wrestle with HIPAA and other privacy laws that may be relevant for a particular medical situation or patient population. In January 2020, California will usher in the state’s privacy law, the CCPA, and thus will begin a new-and-improved era expanding consumers’ privacy rights across all types of personal data, including and beyond personal health information.

In the meantime, Amazon announced several HIPAA-compliant Alexa skills in April 2019 that will be just the beginning of this fast-growing phenomenon for voice assistants in health care. If smart speakers bring health consumers fair value (based on peoples’ definition of “value”) in return for the sharing of personal health information, word-of-mouth – literally – will expand use of these tools.

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