When we introduced the wearable Vocera Badge nearly 20 years ago, it changed the way nursing was practiced in the hospitals that used it. For the first time, nurses had a communication device that let them reach people directly and talk hands-free without having to interrupt patient-care workflow.
In order to initiate a hands-free conversation with the Vocera Badge and, more recently, the Vocera Smartbadge, a user would first press a button to invoke the “Vocera Genie,” our voice recognition engine. They’d then be able to say a command like, “Call on-call cardiologist,” or “Urgent broadcast stroke team” to start communicating.
For years, our customers have been asking us to allow a user to invoke the Genie by using a “wake word,” also called a “hot word,” without the need to physically touch the device. This would work much like the way a Mac or iPhone user can say, “Hey Siri” and an Amazon Echo user can say, “Hey Alexa” to wake up the voice assistant on those devices.
One of the prerequisites for being able to realize this was for our wearable device’s microphones to be able to pick up the voice of the device’s user in a noisy environment. We became one of the first companies to put this type of noise-canceling technology in a wearable communication device back in 2011. Another prerequisite was for the silicon chipsets to become available that would be suitable for our small, lightweight, battery-powered device.
I’m excited to say that the right mix of silicon chipset and other technology finally became available, and we’ve brought the wake word to the Smartbadge! A user only needs to say “Hey Vocera” to wake up the Smartbadge, invoke the Genie, and initiate communication.
Watch this minute video to see how it works.
The Smartbadge is the only wearable device used in clinical settings that supports the use of a wake word. It’s also the only wake-word-enabled device of any kind that’s designed to support clinical workflow.
Voice communication for healthcare isn’t like voice communication in your home or on your personal iPhone. Hospitals can be noisy environments. A healthcare worker needs a communication device that can discern the user’s voice from the noise in the room. And against that backdrop of noise, a user needs to be able to hear the voice of the person speaking as if that person is in proximity.
The technology built into the Smartbadge allows this. But the quality of voice recognition and the smooth, natural conversation are only part of what we’ve done to optimize the Smartbadge for healthcare voice communication.
What really sets the Smartbadge apart is the intelligence of the platform it runs on.
First, there’s information security. Our technology encrypts and secures voice communication to support HIPAA security requirements.
Then there’s communication efficiency and effectiveness. Within the Vocera Platform is a Dynamic Master Directory that knows exactly who is in which role, group, or function at any given time. When a user says, “Hey Vocera,” and then “Call Room 401 nurse,” that master directory is what allows the encrypted, secure voice communication to reach the Room 401 nurse.
Our platform also has an intelligent workflow engine that routes communications. So, if the Room 401 nurse is unavailable – say, responding to a code – the encrypted, secure voice communication is redirected to the next person in the escalation path.
The difference is bigger than just technology alone. It is how technology is applied, and that takes a human element. Our professional services team works with customers to shore up their wireless networks so that conversations flow as much like natural speech as possible. We teach users to be mindful of personal health information that might be communicated through conversations, and to be thoughtful about where they are and who might overhear. (The Badge and Smartbadge can be held to the ear like a regular phone for more privacy.)
What are your thoughts, questions, or plans regarding the use of digital assistants in healthcare? I welcome you to reach out to me on LinkedIn.
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