In healthcare, the future is now; just ask Alexa

From drone delivery of AEDs, to Siri and the now HIPAA-compliant Alexa, cutting-edge technology is promising seamless communication for EMS


Alexa, bring up our ventilator troubleshooting algorithm.”

“Hey, Siri? Video call Dr. Brackett for medical control consultation.”

“Okay Google, what is the cardiac arrest dose of calcium chloride?”

The current Alexa Skills Kit for healthcare is a limited, invitation-only platform, but it is one that promises to broaden dramatically soon. Integration with emergency department EHR programs and ambulance ePCRs won’t be far behind. (Photo/PxHere)
The current Alexa Skills Kit for healthcare is a limited, invitation-only platform, but it is one that promises to broaden dramatically soon. Integration with emergency department EHR programs and ambulance ePCRs won’t be far behind. (Photo/PxHere)

In the distant past of my childhood, the comic books I avidly devoured promised me a future of autonomous vehicles, interstellar travel and colonization of other solar systems, artificial intelligence and flying cars. 

Well, today IBM’s Watson can beat chess masters and Jeopardy champions, and while IBM’s revolutionary AI isn’t a virtual doctor – yet – he’s already making a significant impact on the healthcare industry. There are autonomous passenger cars in development by major auto manufacturers and autonomous delivery trucks already on the streets, and in Stockholm, they’ve been able to demonstrate that a drone can deliver an AED to a scene far faster than an ambulance. The only thing missing is interstellar travel, but Elon Musk’s convertible is orbiting Mars as we speak.

Yet somehow, I can’t get dispatch to hear my radio from the driveway, and Siri still can’t understand my Southern drawl.

AI advances are transforming EMS

Still, advances in technology continue to transform the provision of EMS, and often happen faster than we can keep up. Last year, Brewster Ambulance of Massachusetts installed Amazon Echos in their ambulances, to be able to instantaneously reference the Massachusetts Emergency Medical Services Statewide Treatment Protocol. “It’s essentially a sheet of music for emergency responders and providers,” Clinical Director Chris DiBona said at the time. “The sheet of music we work off of is about a 300-page document.”

I was skeptical then, and I remain skeptical. If you’re working with 300-page protocols, you don’t need an AI personal assistant in each ambulance, you need shorter protocols. However, that’s the document Brewster has to work with. Alexa poses a unique and likely effective solution to the problem, and one whose potential we are only beginning to appreciate. But Brewster using Alexa to reference a lengthy and unwieldy document is one thing, expanding the use to other healthcare applications and electronic communications is another level of complexity.

Recently, Amazon announced that Alexa is now powering a suite of HIPAA-compliant healthcare services aimed to streamline delivery of care. If Alexa is now capable of securely refilling your prescriptions, booking an appointment or accessing your hospital discharge instructions, is “Alexa, access Mrs. Smith’s EHR for her most recent EKG and medication list,” far behind? The current Alexa Skills Kit for healthcare is a limited, invitation-only platform, but it is one that promises to broaden dramatically soon. Integration with emergency department EHR programs and ambulance ePCRs won’t be far behind.

The technology is already developed, it’s just a matter of implementing it. Companies like Pulsara are already seamlessly integrating electronic communication and documentation between EMS and the hospital, and others will follow.

Who knows, maybe one day in the foreseeable future, not only will we be able to command Alexa to reference our cardiac protocols, charge our defibrillator and record a drug administration in our code summary, but also activate the webcam in our tablet to talk to our medical control physician and TiVo our favorite show while we’re on the call.

It's still not as cool as an affordable flying car or personal jetpack, but I’ll take it.

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