As of today, people who use the voice-assistant service can launch the WebMD skill on any Alexa-enabled device (such as the Echo, Echo Dot and Amazon Fire TV) and ask a question about a range of health-related topics including conditions, medication, tests and treatments. Alexa will respond with WebMD-sourced answers in easy-to-understand language.
"Every month, nearly one-third of the total online U.S. population turns to WebMD's websites and apps in search of answers to their health-related questions, but now they have another option – and it's as simple as asking Alexa," WebMD Vice President Ben Greenberg, whose product team developed the new voice capabilities, said in a statement. "There are a number of reasons that voice-enabled interfaces are growing in popularity – they are generally hands-free, people can talk faster than they type, and when done right, they make it easier for consumers to quickly and easily get to the information they need."
As anyone with an Alexa-enabled or other voice assistant device knows, one can attempt to ask it anything and it will go searching across databases, but it won’t necessarily come up with a usable answer. The goal with the WebMD integration is to bypass a potentially misdirected search for health information by taking them right to the company's content library. Users launch the skill by asking in a certain format, for example: “Alexa, ask WebMD to tell me about type 2 diabetes,” or “Alexa, ask WebMD what is an echocardiogram.”
People can also request the information be sent to them in text form to their Alexa app, and that option will provide the original answer to their question along with a URL to a WebMD page that can offer more resources.
Alexa is a lot like many other apps, and has a free, self-service, open API for third parties to develop their own products on. To date, developers and companies have built more than 10,000 Alexa skills, an Amazon spokesperson told MobiHealthNews in an email. While the company couldn’t share any specifics, they said they are always looking to expand their capabilities, including health and wellness skills.
Amazon has racked up a few health integrations with its voice assistant since launching About a year ago, the company teamed up with Fitbit to allow Alexa to inform users of the activity-tracking wearables about their sleep, activity and weight. In April, Boston Children’s Hospital officially launched its partnership with Alexa in the form of an app called KidsMD that gave the device the ability to give parents simple health advice about their children’s fever and medication dosing. Then, in December, connected home healthcare company Orbita began using Alexa, although not as their exclusive voice assistant. And just recently, at HIMSS 17, HealthTap deployed the Doctor AI app using Alexa.
“We're excited that WebMD is bringing its skill to Alexa," Rob Pulciani, director of Amazon Alexa said in a statement. "With the WebMD skill, customers can get answers to health questions simply by asking Alexa. It highlights the convenience of a more natural spoken language experience."