Although Alexa can have useful applications for some disabled and elderly people, it is not a catch-all for everyone, according to a recent report from think tank Doteveryone. The report reviews how the health and social care system has been automated, digitized and tracked, and how it often struggles with “the last ten centimeters”, meaning the lived experiences of disabled people who may not be able to use smart care systems or voice assistants. The report gave a few examples:
- Users with lung conditions may not be able to speak loud enough for a smart hub to hear.
- Users with learning disabilities or users that have had strokes may not be able to communicate with a voice assistant in a way it can understand.
- Users with dementia may be disturbed by a voice assistant telling them when to take their medication.
- Users can easily be left in danger if there’s a power outage, security breach or missed payment in their smart home system.
The report said,
“Crossing the “Last Ten Centimeters” requires combining the non-automatable skills of care professionals— emotional intelligence and empathy, contexture awareness and creativity— with basic technical skills. It also requires giving carers the time and resource to feed back their experiences into tech development, to be able to personalize technology, and to access technical support when things go wrong”.
Voice Assistants Used in Medicine
As voice assistants become more commonplace, they are now being used in hospitals around the world to help patients control the TV, ask for the weather, and more. Los Angelo’s Cedars-Sinai Hospital is piloting a program that put Amazon Alexa in 100 patient rooms, allowing the voice assistant to get the nurse for a task or completely more conversational tasks like talking about sports and music. Similarly, the Cleveland Clinic medical center recently unveiled a new Google Assistant action to give users information on health and wellness. Given the new information from the Doteveryone report, it remains to be seen how smart technology will be integrated into medicine.