Siri? Alexa? The doctor will see you now: As hands-free tech use grows, pharma has an opportunity

A new DRG Digital study finds that physicians are using voice assistants in their professions as a new kind of hands-free clinical assistant.(Source: DRG Digital - Manhattan Research)

Look who’s talking—to voice assistants. Physicians are increasingly adopting the hands-free, time-saving tools in a trend DRG Digital expects will create both challenges and opportunities for pharma brands.  

A recent deep dive found that of the U.S. physicians who use a voice assistant for professional reasons, 78% use voice on their smartphones to search. Others use dedicated voice devices such as Amazon Echo (31%) or a voice assistant that's part of their EHR system (29%).

DRG Digital-Manhattan Research initially began researching voice assistants after its annual big picture “Taking the Pulse” 2017 survey discovered that 23% of physicians used voice assistants for work. The researchers wanted to know more, so they set up the second study to survey 100 of the doctors in the original study who said they use voice services.

Some of the most common ways doctors use voice assistants are to ask drug or dosing questions (24%), for diagnostic, disease or clinical information (22%), or to communicate with colleagues (7 %).

“Most of the voice tools that doctors said they’re using are voice interfaces to existing web content. They’re using it to search Google or to hunt for websites. So right now, this is more of a bridge to that content. In the future, will it adapt and become more robust? You can bet on it if Apple, Google and Amazon are behind it,” Jeff Greene, VP, digital strategy and insights at DRG Digital, said in an interview.

Imagine, for instance, Amazon Echo or Google Home devices in use in physician offices, he said. A pharma company could create a skill, which is what Amazon calls its voice apps, that could be downloaded onto the Echo to allow a physician to order samples by simply saying a few words.

“It’s an interesting avenue for pharma companies to explore as a virtual 24/7 sales representative who sits electronically in the doctor’s office, and working in tandem with a live human together, services that physician with the latest information and resources,” Greene said. “… That’s some of the longer-term potential we see if these devices continue to proliferate.”

When it comes to an Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa preference, Siri was mentioned by 20 doctors in comments, while only 5 specifically mentioned Alexa or Echo. Google was mentioned by 14 physicians, but that also includes mentions of Google search.

In the end, the second study raised even more interest, and additional questions, Greene said, so more follow-ups are now being planned. The EHR connection and the current and potential use of pharma skills on Amazon are a couple of the areas DRG Digital is evaluating.

Meanwhile, though, what should pharma teams be doing right now? Greene advises that they start to get familiar with voice assistants and dedicated voice-enabled devices. Think about the implications for search, for example, in a more voice-oriented world of search, he suggested.

And pharma innovation groups and marketing and sales teams should buy the devices and start experimenting with them, just like they did with Apple iPads. The more they familiarize themselves and explore the potential of voice, the more business case possibilities they will likely recognize, he said.