Researchers at Pennsylvania State University are looking for a way to use Amazon Alexa as an alternative to opioids to treat pain. Alexa will use Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as a non-addictive pain treatment. In MBSR, which has been proven to treat chronic pain and improve overall quality of life, patients have conversations with a virtual coach from their homes. The addition of Alexa to MBSR will make it easier for patients to use this method regularly and in the long-term.
Although there are many MBSR applications on smart phones, it can be difficult for people with chronic pain to access them. Alexa, on the other hand, uses voice controls, making it easier for patients to engage. Another problem with current MBSR applications is lack of engagement.
“Long-term engagement with MBSR practices is essential for effective pain management and subsequently reducing the risk of opioid dependence…With Alexa, you don’t have to get up from your seat to access the practices,”
said Saeed Abdullah, assistant profession of Information Sciences and Technology and the project’s primary investigator. Alexa allows patients to easily practice MBSR at home on a regular basis, which should increase compliance rates and improve patient outcomes. Pennsylvania is one of the top 10 states in the country in regards to overdose deaths, according to research from the Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse, with 5,456 related deaths in 2017 alone, making this research acutely important and timely.
The research done at Penn State is not the first time Alexa has been used in conjunction with medical treatment. Currently, Cedars-Sinai Hospital is piloting a program that has put Alexa into 100 patient rooms. Patients can tell Alexa to change a channel or get a nurse, as well as ask her for conversational information. By using Alexa for simple tasks, nurses can focus more on medical care, according to Golda Moeales, assistant nurse manager of General Surgery at Cedars-Sinai. In addition, Amazon recently patented technology that would enable Alexa to tell when a user is sick and give advice such as medicine suggestions or chicken noodle soup recipes. The voice assistant, still relatively new, has many potential uses in the field of medicine and beyond.