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Voice and the Elderly—There’s More to the Conversation

How Conversation Impacts the Relationship Between Elderly and Tech

Sometimes it feels like the digital world revolves around the Millennial generation. And it seems to make sense because these younger consumers are leading the rise of mobile messaging as the primary experience.

The elderly get lost in the technology mix even though they make up 15% of the total American population (and the number is growing steadily). We make jokes about older generations struggling with technology, but maybe we’ve been misguided.

In early 2017, Saturday Night Live took advantage of the low-hanging fruit and ran a skit poking fun at how the elderly population will struggle with voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa. However, Alexa and other voice assistants are poised to have the opposite effect on the elderly population.

Voice is the most natural messaging interface for the elderly and has the power to change healthcare as we know it. But as hospitals and nursing homes embrace voice assistants for elder care, many are missing the big-picture advantages of conversational healthcare.

The Current Focus of Voice—Convenience

Voice interfaces have already gone mainstream and some nursing homes are jumping on the opportunity to integrate assistants like Alexa. However, the current focus revolves almost entirely around a patient’s personal convenience.

One example is an Alexa pilot program run by Front Porch in San Diego. Consider some of the main ways that those involved in the program are currently using in-room Amazon Echoes:

These are all great use cases for nursing homes to improve quality of life for the elderly population. However, the practicality of voice interfaces in healthcare go far beyond convenience in nursing homes. If deployed correctly, voice can have a significant impact on patient care.

Alexa Skills Gaining Practicality in Healthcare

Even if the elderly population is currently using voice interfaces for convenience, major healthcare brands are taking it upon themselves to make these assistants more practical for healthcare.

The Mayo Clinic recently introduced a first-aid skill for Amazon Alexa. Understanding the value of conversational voice interfaces, Mayo Clinic created the skill to provide self-care instructions to the general public. Rather than simply pulling from Google search queries, the skill provides expert-backed advice for many common first-aid situations.

But there’s a sticking point when you apply a skill like this one in the elderly community. Mayo Clinic specifically points out that the First-Aid Skill shouldn’t be used in emergency situations and for users to seek immediate medical assistance in these cases.

When self-service isn’t an option for those in a nursing home or hospital, this practical healthcare skill loses relevance because there’s no system for human escalation. Including voice in a larger messaging strategy solves this escalation problem and enables more efficient patient care.

Incorporating Voice into a Larger Messaging Strategy

Think about how a nursing home is structured. The communities house hundreds of beds, each patient with her own call button in case she needs anything from the nurses. Pushing the call button signals the central nursing station where an admin then manages orderlies.

This is a support case scenario much like in retail and a voice-enabled messaging strategy can help increase efficiency.

With the call-button system, information about individual patients isn’t captured automatically. A nurse may make note of certain issues and requests—but imagine if a voice assistant captured all patient conversation data into a central agent view via Layer.

Not only can the central nurses station handle multiple requests simultaneously, but care will continuously improve as patient conversation histories become more complete. Whether it’s a patient’s specific health records, status of mental capacity, or frequency of calls, the central agent view provides more information to improve responses to voice assistant requests.

The only caveat for this view of more technology-enabled elder care is security and compliance.

Addressing the HIPAA Elephant in the Room

Even though cloud provides like Amazon Web Services have achieved HIPAA compliance, voice assistants like Alexa haven’t yet met the right standards.

Even though Amazon is working toward Alexa’s HIPAA compliance, lack of adherence seems to limit the potential of voice for healthcare. However, the HIPAA limitations of Alexa are rooted in a narrow view of how voice can be used in nursing homes and hospitals.

Rather than seeing voice as a singular means to an end—the patient queries the assistant and there’s an automatic response—hospitals and nursing homes can maintain patient record security by leaning on a compliant underlying messaging strategy.

Back in August, we wrote a post about how voice and messaging are deeply intertwined and how Layer is capable of integrating voice components like AI interaction, call center usage, and user-to-user conversation into a single event stream. Add to that the fact that Layer is HIPAA compliant and you get a messaging framework that can drive more practical uses of voice for elder care (and healthcare in general).

Healthcare companies are already finding ways to make use of voice for patient care, but that doesn’t mean navigating security and compliance is easy. If you want to learn how to create a compliant strategy that takes advantage of the power of messaging, contact us today for a demo of the Layer Customer Conversation Platform.