For healthcare to keep up with evolving consumer expectations, it’s time for the industry to advance its patient engagement strategy—incorporating emerging channels, like voice.

It’s clear that voice technology is growing in popularity. Consumers are increasingly relying on smart speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Home to stream music, set timers, make lists and check the weather. In fact, a recent study by Nielsen reported that nearly 25% of U.S. households own a smart speaker, a rapid uptick over the past year. Despite this increasing adoption, there is still room for growth, along with new applications of the technology—including in specific industries like healthcare.

The new standard for patient experience

As consumers, we want our retail experiences to be fast, seamless, personalized and convenient. The retailers that meet our expectations are memorable and we may even become loyal customers. We recall the best experiences we have had and then use those to set the bar for what we expect in the future from all brands, regardless of industry. These are the experiences where we can easily find what we need, receive a personalized recommendation, order a product with the click of a button or a simple voice command—all with free, fast delivery. Why should the patient experience be any different?

Voice applications in healthcare

For healthcare to keep up with evolving consumer expectations, it’s time for the industry to advance its patient engagement strategy—incorporating emerging channels, like voice. Smart speakers are designed with the consumer in mind and can be leveraged to make patients’ lives easier. A few helpful applications of voice in healthcare include:

  • Information access. There are a number of healthcare questions that frequently come up. What time does the local hospital open? Do I need a referral for a specialist? With this in mind, having FAQ content not just online, but embedded within the voice channel makes this information even more accessible for patients.
  • Manage appointments. Patients lead busy lives and providers’ offices are not always accommodating with after-hours reception. Building a voice skill that lets patients make appointments, reschedule and send appointment reminders can ease some of the burden on busy receptionists, while providing patients the flexibility to schedule things on their own time.
  • Pay bills. Paying a bill for your latest visit might be an extra to-do on your list. Think about the convenience and time saved if you’re able to handle this without even needing to lift a finger!
  • Refill prescriptions. The need to fill a prescription is another touchpoint with the patient, which can easily be streamlined. Smart speakers can be used to manage prescription refills and set reminders.
  • Medication adherence. For those living with chronic conditions, medication adherence can be a big challenge. Some patients may take upwards of five pills per day. If they miss a dose, it could negatively impact their health. Create a voice skill that reminds patients to take their medications on time to help them manage their conditions. Users could also ask what dosage of an over the counter prescription they need to take if they are a certain age or weight.

Making the most of a new channel

To get started, healthcare marketers should first determine what their objectives are when it comes to using a new engagement channel. What is the desired outcome? What are the measures of success? A high level objective may be improving quality of care, while a specific, measurable way voice can help achieve this might be reducing the volume of calls going to the call center.

Before jumping on the latest consumer trend, it’s important to understand if it will support business objectives. Be strategic about new initiatives. While not every new shiny object will be a fit to benefit the organization and patient, voice presents a prime opportunity to do so.

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To ensure voice is effective, cross-organization collaboration from marketing, IT, design UX and others will be essential. When developing voice skills, they should be designed for ease of use and to be empathetic to the user’s needs.

There will always be room for improvement. Track usage and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. As you gather more information and fine tune skills, you’ll be able to deliver a voice that amplifies your brand and resonates with the needs of your patients.

Challenges to anticipate

On the path to embracing a new digital channel, there are three main challenges healthcare organizations can expect. These include:

  • Driving awareness and adoption. While smart speaker adoption is growing, one can assume that not all device owners are using the channel for healthcare-related engagements. Relying on voice for health-related questions and assistance may not be an obvious application. With this in mind, marketers should look to raise awareness of voice as a channel for patients to drive engagement.
  • Ensuring data privacy. A 2018 PwC survey found that a key consumer concern with using voice assistants is privacy in relation to data and security. There can be many implications for this—one one being data breaches. While there may be little concern if the world learns about the paper towels you’ve been ordering or the music you’re listening to, we can expect concern to increase if we’re talking about personal healthcare data. Users of voice technology will also want privacy when it comes to communicating with their devices. What if your Alexa reminds you it’s time to refill your prescription for a specific medication while you’re hosting a dinner party?.
  • Complying with regulatory requirements. HIPAA, the regulation designed to protect personal information and the data that’s stored in medical records, can also interfere with the adoption of smart speakers. As such, the type of information that can be shared through voice technology must be limited and may present a challenge for healthcare personnel (HCPs) or marketers if patients are looking for more personalized content. For example, patients may not be able to access their health records or test results through their smart speakers.

Looking ahead

While we may be in the early days of voice now, we can expect it to become a more standard channel once some of the big players like Amazon start embracing smart speakers for healthcare. Voice technology may never replace traditional channels due to patient privacy and regulations. It will, however, play a crucial role in enhancing the overall patient and healthcare provider relationship.

By automating requests and answers, voice has the potential to drastically improve the patient experience while driving productivity for the organization. At the end of the day, smart speakers will be part of the equation. Organizations that ignore this channel aren’t only missing out on opportunities but risk losing their edge—along with their patients’ loyalty.

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Lynne Capozzi, is CMO of Acquia.

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