One of the biggest complaints from medical professionals is lack of patient compliance with recommended or prescribed treatments for diseases such as diabetes and congestive heart failure. Along with the rising medical costs associated with treating these diseases, home care givers feel helpless without full access to the doctors and care guide. With insurance companies refusing to pay hospitals for re-admissions, especially due to preventable relapses, it is clear the current way of managing chronic conditions is archaic. Looking at all angles, we searched for a solution that would encourage patients to be more compliant and healthy while allowing care providers and managers to be able to monitor the patient better, keeping doctors more tuned in to what is going on with their patients. The goals are earlier intervention in negative trends and reducing the number of unreimbursed hospital re-admissions, all without adding more stress on the patient. Because nothing is more natural than spoken language, we thought that providing patients with an Amazon Echo and a creative, custom Alexa Skill could help them take their medications properly and keep their care team in the loop, too.
Alexa Skills are voice experiences that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device. They are written in the Amazon Developer Console, and the code that Alexa will trigger to run is stored on Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a Lambda function, see below:
Our Approach with Alexa
You can develop and host your own cloud-based web service, but it is just a lot easier to use Amazon’s AWS Lambda; which is free for the first million calls per month. The Amazon AWS Command Line Interface allows use of the terminal to quickly publish the Lambda functions. Anyone developing Alexa Skills should use the Alexa Skills Kit SDK for Node.js (alexa-sdk). Amazon’s security also requires a custom IAM Role (an AWS identity with permission policies that determine what the identity can and cannot do in AWS) to allow the Lambda function and DynamoDB to communicate with each other.
One Alexa Skill we developed uses the Iodine.com API to allow users to ask Alexa about medications by name and to see if there are any side effects that concern them. In the background, Amazon’s DynamoDB collects and stores the user session, user ID, timestamp, and medication name requested. This information then gets pushed to the HealtheMe© dashboard for display.