Voice is Cool, Again - SMARTMD Voice is Cool, Again - SMARTMD

Last week the VOICE SUMMIT conference was held for the first time. The 3-day event focused on technology leading the way toward voice-first interactions with computers. What do I mean by that? Imagine having a device like Alexa in your exam room, dutifully taking notes while you examine the patient. How about documenting your last visit, prescribing a change in medication, all while you’re driving to your next home visit. These are just the initial ideas being built for a voice-first world. And why not? Many of us are already using products like Alexa and Google in our homes to control lights, play games, and order pizza.

The VOICE SUMMIT brought in leaders from tech giants like Panasonic, and healthcare leaders from well-regarded institutions including the Mayo Clinic, Boston Children’s, and Barnabas Health. They shared their current implementations of products like Alexa, as well as where they hope these technologies will eventually lead to. Here are some of my observations and takeaways from the conference. Hopefully, you’ll be able to attend next year!

Not just for Patients

Voice assistants aren’t just for patients. Doctors want in. Here is my favorite slide from the show. Voice could change that experience completely.

HIPAA Compliance

In healthcare, lack of HIPAA compliance still stands in the way of wide adoption of Alexa/Siri/Google-Home.

Current Reality

The most common deployed use in healthcare is still query and answer for information retrieval. For example, Mayo Clinic’s First Aid skill that provides self-care instructions for dozens of everyday mishaps.

Voice Isn't the Only Trend

Use of the camera on your phone, both as a source of input and view of the world with AR is coming. Keyboards & mice won’t entirely disappear, but they certainly won’t be the primary mode of interaction.



Alexa changed the conversation (literally). Amazon demonstrated that we could realistically speak with our computers. It actually worked and didn’t cost a fortune to buy.


Best Use

Not all problems are suited for voice. The best application is when your hands are full, whether that’s when you’re in the operating room, examining a patient, or driving in your car.

Voice as a Biomarker

On the bleeding edge, Mayo Clinic and others are developing deep neural models that can predict your health just by analyzing your voice.

Medical Terminology

Today’s voice assistants still struggle to understand drugs, diseases, and general medical jargon.

Fear of Abuse

Hospitals aren’t openly embracing voice assistants because of the fear that everything is being recorded. Voice invocation offers significant efficiencies for doctors and patients, but may simply be too intrusive for risk-averse hospital leadership that’s been burned by security breaches.


Voice is cool, again. It was the primary mode for doctors to produce notes 10 years ago. Providers have come back to the same conclusion. Days of fancy screens with a hodgepodge of buttons and widgets is coming to a happy end. It couldn’t come soon enough.