It may be early, but voice technology is already making a positive impact on the healthcare industry.

Earlier this year, financial services giant JPMorgan Chase announced that it had made VaynerMedia its agency of record (AOR) for voice marketing operations, marking the first time that such a major financial services player has established an AOR for voice technology.

“We want to get organized around having voice as a core part of our marketing efforts and marketing campaigns,” explains JPMorgan Chase CMO Kristin Lemkau. “Voice is not only coming; it’s here, and in a multitasking world, it’s really significant.”

To Lemkau’s point, a recent study released by NPR and Edison Research indicates that 16 percent of Americans — that’s roughly 39 million people — own a “smart speaker” like the Amazon Echo or Google Home that boasts some sort of conversational artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. Current as of January 2018, this figure is an astonishing 128 percent higher than it was in January 2017.

Separate research suggests that half of all internet searches will be conducted via voice as soon as 2020, thanks in large part to the fact that 55 percent of American households are expected to own a smart speaker by 2022. What’s more, studies have shown that voice responses yield five times more information than written responses, making the return on an investment in voice all the more significant.

Broad-Based Potential

Financial services is one of the industries with the most to gain from voice technology, underscoring the shrewdness of JPMorgan Chase’s gambit. Despite a totally underdeveloped market, 27 percent of people surveyed by Bain & Company said that they would consider utilizing a voice-controlled assistant like Amazon’s Alexa to conduct their everyday banking — and 6 percent already do. In fact, seed accelerator Y Combinator has called for more voice applications in the coming year — further proof of the technology’s untapped potential.

One industry in which voice technology has nearly limitless potential is healthcare. In fact, according Juniper Research, chatbots — the colloquial term for conversational AI — will save organizations in the retail, banking, and healthcare industries a collective $8 billion per year by 2022, up from a comparatively paltry $20 million in 2017.

“We believe that healthcare and banking providers using bots can expect average time savings of just over 4 minutes per enquiry, equating to average cost savings in the range of $0.50 to $0.70 per interaction,” says Juniper researcher Lauren Foye. These savings will be bolstered by improving success rates — defined as the frequency with which interactions are completed without being redirected to a human operator — among healthcare chatbots, which Juniper predicts will leap from 12 percent last year to 75 percent in 2022.

Voice Technology is Beneficial for Patients and HCPs

The rise of voice technology — and the sheer limitlessness of its broader applications — stands to benefit both patients and HCPs, throughout the patient journey and the healthcare ecosystem at large. For example, a patient with rheumatoid arthritis may find it difficult to use their phone to research their disease state — a problem that a voice-powered app or search tool could address by answering frequently asked questions or scheduling medication reminders.

Similarly, an infusion product may be difficult for patients to administer when they first begin using it, a problem that many brands have historically addressed by providing a nurse ambassador to onboard the new patient over a limited period of time. Voice AI has the potential to supplement nurse ambassadors, either when they aren’t available or when the nurse ambassador support ends. Patients might ask a voice-enabled device to review injection steps or place an order for new sharps.

For HCPs, voice technology offers an opportunity to streamline the amount of promotional materials in their office. Specifically, if a pharmaceutical company has new products coming to market that will ultimately share space with their existing products in a given HCP’s office, voice technology offers a way for brands to consolidate their in-office footprint without sacrificing the integrity of their product. A voice solution could make it easy for HCPs to administer the brand’s product simply by asking a voice-enabled tool “what are adverse events for X?” or “what is the recommended dosing regimen for X?”

Early Instances of Voice Technology for Healthcare

While most voice tools still rely on nascent technology, a number of forward-thinking companies have already developed compelling healthcare-oriented voice prototypes and beta versions.

Wellpepper, for instance, won the 2017 Alexa Diabetes Challenge with its “Sugarpod,” a comprehensive diabetes care plan structured around a voice-powered foot scanner. In short, the scanner takes photos of a patient’s feet and, in the event that it recognizes foot ulcers, indicators of nerve damage, or peripheral vascular disease, sends the photos directly to the patient’s care provider.

Similarly, Northwell, New York’s largest healthcare provider (HCP) network, has created an Alexa “skill” — essentially an app for the Amazon Echo platform — that finds the shortest emergency room wait times within its provider network. “[You can] ask for the shortest wait time near your zip code, or ask for the wait time at a specific location,” Northwell’s site explains. “You can also ask for the address of any Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care location or Northwell emergency department you request.”

For HCPs, Nuance Communications has added an AI-powered voice assistant to their existing electronic health records (EHRs) software. By installing the “Dragon Naturally Speaking” assistant on top of their EHR software, an HCP can access to their patient schedules, lab results, and patient medication lists and even send a prescription to a pharmacy — all hands-free.

Voice: A Future-Focused Investment

At Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, we’ve been jumping on emergent audio opportunities for quite some time. For instance, by partnering with our sister company, Verilogue, we’ve given pharmaceutical brands access to data — namely, patient-HCP conversations — from within the exam room, long a critical blindspot for marketers. Not only has Verilogue amassed a huge catalog of exam room exchanges, it has organized the exchanges in such a way that marketers are able to connect these real-world interactions to patients’ online activity.

Further, we developed “Congressentials” as a way to modernize the way that HCPs and other healthcare stakeholders document and share their experiences at medical congresses. This cutting-edge mobile solution enables us to collect audio recordings of physicians sharing their reactions to events and panels, giving us — and our clients — unparalleled access to physicians’ candid thoughts regarding industry goings-on.

Moving forward, emerging voice technologies should provide medical marketers with even more opportunities in the mold of Verilogue and Congressentials. As voice data becomes more prevalent, marketers can apply machine learning algorithms to voice datasets in order to not only refine HCP messaging, but improve and personalize the patient experience.

Ultimately, each application of conversational AI must be customized to the specific target of a given brand. Voice isn’t one size fits all. Despite being in the early stages of technological development, it’s already clear that the proliferation of voice tools will benefit the healthcare industry in a host of ways. There are certainly some kinks that still need to be worked out — HIPAA compliance foremost among them — but if the technology progresses as expected, its ceiling is unimaginably high.

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