Health insurer Nib and voice experience specialist Versa have partnered to launch a new "skill" for Amazon's Alexa voice assistant, enabling Nib members to search for local health providers.

The capability is designed to help connect Australian households to the health system's First Choice and MediGap network of providers by using their voice.

Alexa skills are like apps – in this case voice-driven capabilities that can be added to Amazon's Echo device to provide additional services, such as the ability to search for dentists or pediatricians. 

Versa leveraged Nib's existing architecture, which powers their web search, to deliver the name of the specialist and the location of their practice in response to a query.

Results can appear via text message, giving the user the ability to call the nearest provider, and if the first provider is unavailable, the user is provided with two more options.

"Versa was a key driver in the development of Nib's 'voice,' creating a simple guided experience for its users," Nib's chief information officer Brendan Mills said in a statement.

The goal is to offer customers improved ease of access to a network of doctors, specialists or dentists and to help them make better decisions during the search for the best health provider.

The platform will also provide users with daily health tips, and can also provide assistance to customers who have questions regarding their health insurance information in general.

"We worked with the Nib project team to ensure that users would be able to get the most out of Nib's excellent provider network by simply asking," Tyler Hamilton, conversational strategist for Versa, said in a statement.

In the program's first phase, users will be able to access more than 21,000 providers in Nib's MediGap network, including general practitioners.

Users can also search for more than 3,800 ancillary providers including dentists and optometrists, like their local Nib dental and eye care centres.

While voice-activated technologies continue to expand into the healthcare sector as the industry undergoes digital transformation worldwide, the limitations of the technology were recently unveiled by a study conducted by Klick Health and published in Nature Digital Medicine.

The research indicated that voice assistant platforms like Google Assistant, Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa need to improve the accuracy of their technology for healthcare applications.

Because voice assistants have primarily been developed for non-medical related uses, the study demonstrated more research and development is needed to enhance the speech recognition abilities of these platforms specifically for medically relevant information, such as the recognition of names for commonly dispensed medications.




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