Can Medical Alexas Make Us Healthier?


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Are voice recognition applied sciences like Alexa useful in medication or are they hogwash? For now, the brief reply is a bit of of each.

Microsoft on Monday mentioned that it might spend roughly $16 billion to buy Nuance Communications, whose speech transcription software program is used in health care.

Microsoft in addition to different tech corporations like Google and Amazon have huge ambitions to rework the business with synthetic intelligence applied sciences, together with in voice recognition applications and efforts to identify signs of illness and disease.

The huge hope of know-how in medication is that it may assist make us more healthy and enhance America’s costly and sometimes ineffective and unjust well being care system. The message that I’ve heard from medical specialists is that there’s potential there, however there may be additionally numerous scorching air.

The hope of medical Alexas:

For years, docs have used Nuance’s transcription software program to talk notes about sufferers and convert them into textual content for medical data. In principle, that frees docs from having to do paperwork to allow them to spend extra time treating us.

Nuance and different tech and well being care suppliers want to do much more with our voices. One concept is that microphones would possibly report (with permission) interactions between physicians and sufferers and log the related particulars into medical information — with out a lot human involvement. Computers would even be sensible sufficient to order any vital exams and deal with billing.

This sounds cool and maybe a bit of creepy. These concepts are nonetheless beneath growth, and it’s not clear how effectively these medical Alexas would work. But Dr. Eric J. Topol, a professor of molecular medication at Scripps Research and the creator of several books on technology in medicine, advised me that voice recognition programs are some of the consequential makes use of of synthetic intelligence in well being care, at the least within the brief time period.

At Cedars-Sinai, a well being system in Southern California, most hospital rooms have been outfitted with voice activated gadgets, mentioned Darren Dworkin, the group’s chief info officer. For now, the gadgets are principally used for comparatively mundane interactions, corresponding to a nurse asking a tool to indicate a affected person a video on stopping harmful falls.

Dworkin mentioned that he was most optimistic about utilizing voice and different applied sciences to automate administrative work, corresponding to authorizing insurance coverage for medical remedies and sending tailor-made textual content messages to sufferers.

Dworkin mentioned that these makes use of of know-how won’t be what many thought of a wow issue, however that busywork was an enormous value and problem in well being care.

“Not everything has to be state of the art,” Dworkin mentioned. “Don’t let the simple stuff pass you by.” (Another vote for the importance of boring technology!)

Where hope meets harsh actuality:

Just about each know-how utilized in well being care — and plenty of different fields — guarantees to cut back administrative work and prices. And but, well being care bills and forms within the United States principally proceed to go up.

Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a doctor and assistant professor of well being coverage and economics at Weill Cornell Medicine, mentioned that he was optimistic that voice tech and synthetic intelligence might cut back administrative burdens and assist sufferers. But he mentioned that his hope was not but backed by rigorous proof.

“There is not a lot of evidence at this point that A.I. reduces costs or improves health outcomes,” Dr. Khullar advised me. (I borrowed the “medical Alexas” line from him.)

I requested these well being specialists an overarching query: What position ought to know-how play in tackling the basis issues of American well being care?

They largely agreed that advances in know-how might assist cut back prices and enhance the standard of service in our well being care system, however that it was not a silver bullet for our greatest issues.

“I would say, it’s part of the answer but not a large part of it,” Dr. Khullar mentioned.

(And learn extra from DealBook: How has Microsoft mostly avoided the government’s antitrust attention? My reply: Microsoft’s important know-how is generally boring. That is an effective factor.)


Your Lead

Last week, I pointed to a terrific article about Indians adapting to costly cell phone calls by developing with new methods to speak that concerned hanging up mid-ring. An On Tech reader, Morris Fried of Somerset, N.J., wrote to us about his household’s missed name communications system from many years in the past:

Your observe about utilizing missed requires communications in India stirred previous recollections of the identical method on this nation. (I will probably be 75 subsequent month.)

When I used to be a toddler, we’d drive again dwelling to Philadelphia after visiting my grandmother in Brooklyn. My mom would then name the operator and request a person-to-person lengthy distance name to her personal identify at my grandmother’s cellphone quantity.

My grandmother would reply the cellphone and inform the operator that my mom was not there. My mom thereby succeeded in informing her mom that we had arrived dwelling safely with out incurring the then not-insignificant expense to us of an extended distance phone name.


“If you’ve always wanted your own haunted Victorian child in the body of a small dog that hates men and children …” I laugh-cried at this extremely detailed description of Prancer on Facebook and his MANY peculiar habits, posted by a New Jersey pet adoption league.


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