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Archive Hot Technology 2020

Talk About Progress

Smart speakers could someday improve communications in the OR.

Daniel Cook

Daniel Cook, Editor-in-Chief


SPEAKING OF SURGERY Voice assistants have the potential to improve patient safety and the accuracy of intraoperative documentation.

Alexa is already talked to like a member of the family in some households. Someday, these virtual assistants might act like members of your surgical team. You’ll be able to ask them for reports on pre-op tests instead of the weather, call up MRI scans instead of calling your spouse and add items to medical records instead of shopping lists. There are significant barriers to overcome before smart speakers are commonplace in ORs, but the interactions you have with them in your kitchen provide a glimpse into how the technology could be used during surgery.

Useful feedback

Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital are exploring ways smart speakers can improve efficiencies and reduce human error by helping surgical teams do their jobs better and easier. Sarah Lindenauer, director of innovation and a digital health accelerator at Boston Children’s, and her colleagues observed surgical teams in action to assess how the use of a smart speaker could fit into their normal workflow. The team found that providers remain focused on the patient while requesting information or calling out commands.

She says members of the hospital’s surgical team have expressed interest in being able to access clinical information or call up MRI and CT images in the middle of the case without diverting their attention from the patient or breaking sterile technique to click a computer’s mouse. With a smart speaker in the room, a member of the team would theoretically be able to call out a command to have images displayed on a monitor in the room or request that the speaker relay pertinent info from the patient’s medical record.

“We’re also exploring the potential of using smart speakers to verbally document events throughout a case such as the time of the first incision,” says Ms. Lindenauer.

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