Voice was central to the healthcare industry’s transition to virtual care even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In an era when touchless interfaces and remote technologies have become more crucial than ever, hospitals and senior living communities are adopting these new technologies at remarkable speed.
Aiva Health’s solution for hospitals and senior living communities mitigates some of the biggest challenges of the pandemic: It helps residents and patients overcome isolation and loneliness, while allowing healthcare staff and caregivers to do their jobs safely and effectively.
The company launched its voice-powered care assistant in 2016 and has been on the cutting-edge of voice-driven technologies in care settings ever since. In recent months, Aiva reports experiencing rapid growth as doctors, nurses and other caregivers increasingly feel the need for hands-free communication and control.
In hospitals that use voice-powered technologies, clinicians and other staff can limit trips in and out of COVID-19 rooms. This helps reduce exposure to the deadly virus and conserves Personal Protective Equipment. They can also use virtual rounding to check in on patients more frequently and provide the same level of compassionate care.
According to Aiva, their care assistant improves the patient experience by enabling them to make hands-free calls to their families and take control of their rooms. For example, patients can adjust the room temperature or lights; they can also ask Alexa (via Aiva) to play their favorite music or change the TV channel — all without touching any buttons, keyboards, or remotes.
In senior living communities, isolated residents have the power to ask Alexa to call their friends and families, or they can ask a caregiver for help. The product, according to Aiva, also saves steps for caregivers, enabling them to call residents back and tackle problems remotely, perhaps freeing them up to focus on more urgent requests from other residents.
So, while COVID-19 has curtailed social activities and human interaction, Aiva believes they’re helping to restore a sense of connection, improving patient outcomes, residents’ quality of life, and staff morale.
Avia’s voice assistant works by pairing with their mobile app and web-based back end for enterprise control.
“Aiva is bringing the Smart Home experience to care settings, creating smart hospitals and smart communities,” said Aiva’s founder and CEO Sumeet Bhatia. “By empowering a patient, resident or a caregiver to do things hands-free, it improves satisfaction and outcomes for everyone.”
A common misconception about seniors is that they’re slow to adapt to new technology. But many older adults have turned to technology that they find useful, intuitive and easy to master. For seniors living in communities, voice can make it easier to communicate, access information, and maintain independence.
For example, Aiva’s assistant empowers residents of senior living communities to control smart devices around their apartment, to set medication reminders and to keep in touch remotely with family and other residents.
When a resident asks Alexa about lunch options, she will reply instantly. If a resident asks for a newspaper, Aiva will send the request to its proprietary CareTeam app for caregivers to see. In case of an accident, a resident can simply ask for help using their voice, and then instantly hear assurance that help is on the way.
Caregivers can respond right away by sending a voice message through the CareTeam app. They can also triage all of their requests based on urgency and determine which team member will fulfill each task.
“Caregivers appreciate the touchless environment our product creates, while seniors really value the companionship and control,” Bhatia said. “One of our residents affectionately refers to Alexa as her roommate.”
“These are 80-year-olds, 90-year-olds and their ability to leverage this technology is amazing. We learn to speak when we’re two and it’s still the easiest way for most people to connect at 102.”
Aiva’s offering, according to the company, is having a similar impact in hospitals, improving efficiency and the experience of patients and staff.
Aiva’s assistant helps nurses save time by redirecting non-medical requests to other departments and answering patient questions that might otherwise require a room visit. In a way, Aiva creates a virtual help desk, fielding many information requests so that physicians and nurses can concentrate on providing compassionate, hands-on care.
Aiva maintains that their voice assistant improves the patient experience in ways that go beyond communication, as well. For instance, health practitioners have long recognized the healing power of music. Nurses tell stories of patients recovering from surgery whose first request to Aiva is something like, “Alexa, play Chopin Radio.” The ability to call up familiar piano pieces hands-free gives patients a feeling of control, and the music reassures them during a stressful time.
Empowering people when they need it most has been the driving force behind Aiva, the company asserts. Before turning to voice technology, Bhatia worked on a communications and collaboration startup for health providers and realized that patients and senior residents were being left out of conversations about their care.
“With Echo and Alexa around for a couple of years, I felt that it was time to leverage those tools to connect people, particularly patients and residents with their caregivers,” he said.
Bhatia said his company’s biggest challenges were making the system interactive and interoperable.
With respect to interactivity, Bhatia didn’t want Aiva to simply look up answers to questions, but to let patients, residents and caregivers interact: “Introducing two-way communications took voice assistance to a new level of utility.”
Interoperability has been equally important.
Aiva’s care assistant seamlessly integrates with other systems on the backend, improving the interoperability of care settings. As Bhatia explained it: “We’ve been very focused on creating a simple customer experience in front of all of the back-end systems so that people get what they want by just talking to Alexa.”
Within a year of starting the company, Bhatia and team were chosen to take part in the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator, an LA-based innovation program for healthcare startups that was administered in partnership with Techstars at the time. While there, the Aiva team was able to study the ways that nurses and patients could benefit from interacting with a voice-powered care assistant.
Then came the first deployment: Aiva equipped several patient rooms at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with Amazon Echo devices. The pilot went well, leading to a hospital-wide expansion.
According to Aiva, their product is now up and running in healthcare systems and senior communities throughout the U.S. and Canada, including BayCare Health, Houston Methodist and Masonic Homes of California.
In 2018, Aiva became an Alexa Fund portfolio company. “We’ve been incredibly fortunate to partner with Amazon and the Alexa Fund. I don’t think we could accomplish our mission without their involvement,” Bhatia said.
Alexa Fund has supported Aiva’s development and helped forge relations with other Amazon teams — relationships which ultimately enabled Aiva to scale enterprise voice assistant deployments via Amazon Web Services and Alexa Smart Properties, helping Aiva create smart, privacy-minded solutions.
Aiva believes that voice technology will play a central role in the future of care. They see smart hospitals and smart senior living communities powered by ambient computing, with voice assistance as a basic expectation for patients, seniors and their caregivers.
Aiva aims to become a constant care companion, not just in acute care and assisted living settings, but throughout the patient journey, including in their doctor’s office and at home. They’re looking forward to partnering with the Alexa Fund on that journey.
In the meantime, Aiva Health is continuing to improve the well-being of patients, seniors, and healthcare professionals one conversation at a time. “We’re very excited to help as many people as we can,” Bhatia said. “In the next few months of this crisis, we’re focused on how and where we can contribute.”