Amazon's 'Alexa' able to give CPR instructions

The voice-activated device first tells the user to call 911 before offering other instructions

American Heart Association

DALLAS — The voice-activated Amazon Echo device answers thousands of everyday requests, like setting a timer, playing music, ordering a pizza or changing a thermostat.

Now, this device can help save someone’s life.

Amazon's Alexa. (Photo/Amazon)
Amazon's Alexa. (Photo/Amazon)

Alexa, the friendly voice of the Amazon Echo, will for the first time give all three instructions for CPR, heart attack and stroke warning signs. The information is crucial because prompt medical attention can make the difference between life or death, or significant disability, said Robert Neumar, M.D., Ph.D., chair of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.

“Any system that can reliably reduce delays in medical care for cardiac arrest, heart attack and stroke has the potential to improve health outcomes,” Neumar said.

To access this new information, people simply ask Alexa, starting with the phrase “Alexa, ask American Heart” to ensure they’re hearing the science-based information from the American Heart Association. So, you would say:

  • “Alexa, ask American Heart … how do I perform CPR?”
  • “Alexa, ask American Heart … what are the warning signs of a heart attack?”
  • “Alexa, ask American Heart … what are the warning signs for stroke?”

On average, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds in the U.S. About 2,200 Americans die from cardiovascular diseases each day. Cardiac arrest claims more than 350,000 lives a year. Because these are emergencies requiring urgent treatment, Alexa first tells the user to call 911 before offering other instructions.

There are about 8.2 million Amazon Echo devices in the U.S., according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. This year, sales of the Amazon Echo line and newer Google Home devices are projected to reach 4.5 million, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

The ability to easily offer assistance in so many homes is enticing to health care providers, because time is so important.

“Anything we can do to have not only more bystanders do CPR but have them start sooner is likely to have an impact on survival,” Neumar said.

About 70 percent of cardiac arrests happen at home, but victims are half as likely to survive when they are at home as they are in a public setting. One reason could be that no one at home did CPR, Neumar said.

“We need to create a culture where everybody is expected to be able to perform CPR who has the physical capability,” he said. “It’s not feasible to have everybody do a CPR course.”

Alexa offers the steps of hands-only CPR for a teen or adult who suddenly collapses: push hard and fast in the center of the chest at the rate of 100 to 120 beats per minute, the same rate as the classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive.”

Shawn DuBravac, Ph.D., chief economist at the Consumer Technology Association, said he could envision a day when voice-activated services are one day part of the 911 system. A 2015 study reported that about half of all communities do not have 911 dispatchers trained to give CPR instruction, as the AHA recommends.

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