SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Alexa, are you the future of health care?

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Patients with chronic diseases like diabetes, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease often end up being readmitted to the hospital or returning to the emergency department. But what if there was a way to catch early warning signs to prevent that from happening?

One of the first pilot programs out of the Inspira Innovation Center is called Inspira Health Plus.

“So far to date, we’ve had with our trial, we had a 0 percent readmission rate where you can see sometimes see upward of 10 to 15 percent,” said David Johnson, vice president of the Inspira Innovation Center.

A patient is sent home with devices prescribed based on their condition. For example, for bariatric patients they get an activity trackers and a scale because it’s important to see the weight coming off and their activity increasing.

The patient plugs everything into an app and the data is monitored by nurse navigators. It’s not a 24/7 emergency response system but if something seems off, the patient gets a phone call.

“First day we were monitoring one of the patients, we were not getting any response. We assumed it was an equipment problem. We had one of our nurses and one of our techs go out to the house and the fellow had collapsed. He had CHF and if we hadn’t done that he would have died,” said John DiAngelo, president and CEO of Inspira Health Network. “Before that we had nurses who would make phone calls. It was very time consuming. It didn’t work nearly as well as this.”

Devices like Alexa are also being tested to help improve patient care. The goal is to have any patient with an Alexa device in their home be able to ask things like where is the nearest urgent care? What are the wait times? And, eventually, check them in.

“At our urgent cares, whenever you visit them you have to get in line. And when you do that, a patient identifier, basically, is put into our system and that number of how many people are in line is available on our website. Basically this is essentially pulling that data,” said Sasha Meremianin, a business analyst for the Inspira Innovation Center

Then they’re taking it a step further and seeing how they’ll be able to incorporate Alexa into a patient’s hospital room.

“Can actually use your voice to call your nurse? To control your settings on your TV — your volume, change the channel? Turn the lights up and down, order your food, all from your voice,” said Johnson.

The technology being used is not new, so why is it just now being incorporated into the health care world?

“Reimbursement from insurances, they didn’t see the value in it. They’re starting to see the value in it and I believe that they have changed their rates and regulations around it,” said Kirsten Burkhardt, associate program manager for Inspira Health Network.

“There’s definitely some concerns people have with using voice and active listening devices like Alexa,” said Johnson. “We’re looking at writing third party, like middleware, to prevent any HIPAA compliance issues. So it’s a concept right now and when we’re certain it’s ready and it’s secure, then we’ll be ready.”

Ready on this idea, and looking ahead at the new Inspira Innovation Center.