August 23, 2019
Electronic smart speaker systems are having a significant impact on our society. In just a few years, these devices have changed the way many of us play music, cook, shop, listen to news, and check the weather.
Many of us have accepted this technology into our homes. and are willing to accept the “dark side” of these devices including reports of how these devices may be listening in on conversations and potential for these devices to be hacked for personal information. In November of 2014, Amazon announced Alexa (virtual assistant), and within 3 years the device has expanded its functions including home automation, ordering food, downloading music, listening to sports and array of other functions. 1
Recently it has been announced that Alexa is expanding its scope of interactions to include health care. Information discussed include how Alexa could help doctors diagnose certain medical conditions such as mental illness, autism, concussions and Parkinson disease. In addition, Alexa may be able to detect when you are having a heart attack. Presently, Alexa can perform a handful of health care related tasks including tracking blood glucose levels, describe symptoms, access post-surgical care instructions, and monitor home prescription deliveries. 2
Although this device can perform a multitude of tasks, I still have many questions, including:
- How may this impact the practice of outpatient pharmacy in the near future?
- Would the physician initiate an electronic prescription to Amazon with same day or next day delivery? Would Alexa verify the prescription has arrived and also answer any questions the patient may have about their prescription?
- Would Alexa be interfaced with a phone app to provide any other information not able to be answered by Alexa?
- Would Alexa monitor adverse effects?
- Would she also monitor and initiate a new refill to be delivered on the same or next day?
As a pharmacist I am extremely concerned about the value of our profession in the future with this technology. I question what will happen to the future of outpatient pharmacy in just 10-20 years. Will society recognize our value, and will third party payers see our value? If we do not become recognized as a health care provider, I am concerned the profession in the outpatient arena is in serious trouble.
Michael J. Cawley, PharmD, RRT, CPFT, FCCM, is a professor of clinical pharmacy at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the Sciences. He has more than 25 years of experience practicing in the areas of medical, surgical, trauma, and burn intensive care as both a critical care clinical pharmacist and registered respiratory therapist.
Wikipedia. Amazon Alexa. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Alexa. Accessed August 21, 2019.
KHN Kaiser Health News. Doctor Alexa will see you now: Is Amazon primed to come to your rescue. https://khn.org/news/amazon-alexa-health-care-medical-diagnostic-skills-artificial-intelligence/. Accessed August 21, 2019.