Xpectives News

Voice Search and the Health Information Impact

August 14, 2017 by Richard Deede0

If you haven’t been living under a rock (or aren’t my parents), you are probably aware of the rise in popularity of voice search and voice enabled devices. Thanks to technology like Google Assistant, iOS Siri, and Amazon Echo, voice search is exploding in terms of both adoption and technology integration.

A comScore study in 2016 noted that 40% of adults now use voice search at least once per day and 60% of those people started using it in the last year. A recent report estimates that more than 24 million Amazon Echo and Google Home devices will be sold in 2017. As the technology behind these devices improves, people are turning to them at an increasing rate to obtain information, seek answers to their questions and incorporate them as a part of their daily routine. Because people can typically speak up to 150 words per minute versus being able to type 40 words per minute, and using voice search is seen as quicker than typing or using an app, voice search continues to grow in usage.

The manner in which people are using voice search, beyond just music playback, seems to focus on location based queries and answering basic questions. These uses line up well with the core functionality of voice search and are natural first steps for many people who are getting familiar with the voice search format.

However, there is much more potential in how voice search can be utilized to engage with searchers beyond what we’re currently seeing – this is especially true in the health information space.

Using voice search for health information
Currently, the number of voice search enabled health dedicated applications is very limited. One of the few available now is WebMD’s Amazon Alexa skill, which is essentially a custom voice search program geared towards health information. This new skill is aimed toward answering basic health questions and providing information in a quick and easy voice-enabled format.

Perhaps in the near future, voice applications could simply build on the commonly used question and answer format to help patients at the earliest stages of their health journey to identify potential health conditions and provide questions for them to ask their doctor.
However, while making use of the straightforward question and answer format is a good foundation, there is a plethora of untapped potential for the health information vertical to go even further and create truly interactive, immersive voice search experiences.

For instance, one of the real values of voice-based personal assistant devices is the way they have started to weave themselves into the daily routine of users. This adoption could be useful for people who manage their health conditions on a daily basis. People who live with diabetes, for example, have a variety of concerns they need to be mindful of which could potentially be tied in to the usage of voice based personal assistant devices. These uses could include:

  • Reminders can be given when it is time to eat, drink and check blood sugar levels
  • Using location-based weather forecasts, the assistant can give recommendations for exercises appropriate for that day and even skin care tips in order to keep skin hydrated
  • From a dietary perspective, when someone utilizes the “shopping list” feature of these devices, perhaps a diabetes app can recognize the ingredients and make suggestions for recipes to make using those ingredients that are diabetic friendly
  • Searches for recipes or restaurants can factor in diabetic restrictions when making recommendations, which will allow the voice search experience to be not only highly efficient but extremely personalized to that person’s location and health needs

As people continue to utilize voice search based devices, the amount of health information applications will continue to grow and open up new avenues to engage people with very individualized healthcare information experiences.

Taking healthcare conversations to voice search
It’s one thing to have a presence in voice search, it’s another to provide an application that people find truly helpful and improves the quality of their health journey. To create a voice search experience that is meaningful and useful, developers must provide people with trustworthy information as efficiently and accurately as possible in their moment of need. This is easier said than done, but the ability to offer such valuable and intimate service means there is the potential to become a part of each person’s daily routine.

Much of the potential value in voice search is in the organic experience it can create. Where healthcare is concerned, many people still feel that having a conversation about your health questions, such as you might have with your doctor, is a more natural and credible experience than Googling for information. Voice search and personal assistant devices have the capacity to create a conversational experience that can make people feel more comfortable and thus dive deeper into their health information search by engaging in a way that more closely mimics the interaction that might occur with their physician.

Healthcare brands and organizations who wish to make full use of voice search will have to be true to themselves and to their audience about the types of information they are seeking and how to answer those questions. For brands, this means potentially providing information that they might not normally be comfortable with discussing. Topics such as side effects and pricing are often avoided on brand websites despite searchers frequently looking for this type of information. In addition, we often see in our research that people commonly make comparison searches, essentially typing in “brand A vs brand B”. This is content that is typically not included in brand experiences. In order to feel comfortable engaging in voice search and adopting a vastly new method of searching for health information, people will need to feel as confident in the answers they are receiving as if they were coming from an unbiased source such as their own doctor.

As people embrace this new technology to seek out health related information, the healthcare world has a tremendous opportunity to make an impact. This starts with creating an experience that truly harnesses the value of voice search to empower the user to feel more in control of their own healthcare.

Richard Deede

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