One Physician’s View of Voice-Based Technologies and the Future of Clinical Practice

March 11, 2020
Teri Fisher, M.D., a sports and exercise physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, shares his perspectives on how voice-driven technologies will help to transform clinical practice in U.S. healthcare

Could voice-based technologies help to transform healthcare delivery in the United States? There is no single answer to that question, as there is a huge spectrum of technologies being developed right now. That said, most industry experts and observers believe that voice-driven technologies will be very important going forward. In that regard, the Boston-based Orbita is presenting a virtual educational forum on digital assistants on the afternoon of Thursday, March 12. Diverse speakers will be presenting on voice-based technologies, including physicians, technology experts, and developers.

Among those to present will be Teri Fisher, M.D., a sports and exercise physician who is clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver; he has been in medical practice for 12 years. Dr. Fisher is a physician and clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. He currently practices at the Student Health Center at the University of British Columbia, which cares for the 66,000 students who attend the university. He is an experienced TEDx and keynote speaker, educator, consultant, and podcaster on the topics of voice technology, healthcare, education and marketing. And he is the founder and host of “Voice First Health”.

This week, Fisher spoke with Healthcare Innovation Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland, regarding the broad topic of voice-driven technologies. Below are excerpts from that interview.

What will you be talking about on Thursday?

What I hope to be talking about is that I and three co-authors have just published Voice Technology in Healthcare: Leveraging Voice to Enhance Patient and Provider Experiences—it’s just been published. And my coauthors are David Metcalf, Ph.D., Sandhya Pruthi, M.D., and Harry Pappas. We would have been launching this today (Tuesday, March 10) at HIMSS; but we’re doing our virtual book launch tomorrow, and are having different speakers who contributed to the book, speak with us tomorrow. And we’ll be giving away copies of the book.

Tell me about the book?

Sure. So there are four main cover authors, myself included. And we invited 32 experts in different areas of voice technology in health care to contribute. We have four main sections: an introduction to voice technology; and then we get into different use cases. Section two: voice Tech and the patient experience. Section three: VT and the provider experience. Section four: voice technology and the future of healthcare. There are 23 chapters, and the book runs about 400 pages. It’s the first book we’re aware of that talks about this subject.

We need tools that are more intuitive and easier to use on the part of clinicians and others. So voice-based technology will provide those tools?

Yes. In the past, you had to learn how to interact with tools. And often going forward, it won’t be voice-only, it’ll be voice-first; and the way in which we’ll interact with computers will be through voice. Kids now are interacting with computers before they can read or write.

What should healthcare IT, administrative, and clinician leaders understand about this area?

Two things. First, the information they’re getting from a device—they’ll have to make sure they’re getting it from a reputable source. That will be a challenge in the voice area, because it will be harder to sort through the options. So that will be the responsibility of the people who control the platforms to make sure it’s reputable. And the second issue is privacy: is this device listening to me? And they’re not always listening to you, unless you wake up the device. But also, if a device can listen to you, it can start to hear vocal biomarkers—changes in the way your voice sounds, which could indicate early markers of disease or illness. And as the newer generation grows up, and they’re less concerned with privacy, I think that with the power of the technology, privacy will be less of a concern, but time will tell.

Will voice technology be used in the clinical setting, in hospitals and clinics?

Certainly. As a physician, oftentimes, I’m answering the same question coming from patients, over and over. And perhaps I could send them over to a voice assistant, and the voice assistant could clarify things for them before or after I see them. And these devices are very useful for providing post-up care. And the device can help them monitor their diabetes, for example. There are so many possibilities here.

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