Epic Seeks to Join Alexa, Siri as Software You Can Chat With

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share their health records with physicians who use software that can’t communicate with Epic’s.

Another MyChart feature is the ability to request refills of medications patients are taking. According to Epic, they’ll soon be able to do this with the help of virtual assistants sold by Amazon and Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL).

On stage Tuesday, Epic employee Maggie Stack carried out a conversation with a custom-built “Echo Cauldron” device, which like Amazon’s devices had blue lights along its outer rim and answered to “Alexa.”

“Alexa, tell MyChart to review my medications,” Stack said, to which the device responded, “You have three prescriptions due for refills. Should I request a refill out of the [local] apothecary?”

Stack said, “Yes, Alexa,” then asked the machine how close she was to her step goal for that day. (Epic’s tools can be set up to integrate with Apple’s HealthKit software so that doctors can see information collected by the “wearable” electronic devices their patients walk around with all day.)

As part of its effort to integrate MyChart with Amazon and Google’s virtual assistants, Epic is working to better connect its assistant software with devices such as Echo and Google Home, Stack said.

Seth Howard, a product development lead at Epic, introduced the demo involving the patient who needed help after turning himself into a mule. To tee up the demonstration, Howard said, “Let’s look at how the physician of the future will interact with technology simply using voice.”

While it’s not clear how close the scenario depicted on stage is to becoming reality, Howard noted that in Epic’s upcoming 2018 release, users will be able to complete assessments and record patients’ vital signs using just their voices.

Not every futuristic concept Epic introduces during its Users Group Meeting presentations comes to fruition, but many from past events have, and are being used to care for patients today, said Sumit Rana, senior vice president of research and development at Epic.

Chris Longhurst, chief information officer at UC San Diego Health, said he feels that Epic “does a good job of showing things that are actively being worked on in development, and not vaporware.” However, he added that some of the future possibilities Epic hinted at on Tuesday are likely more conceptual than concrete—for now, at least.

UC San Diego Health has held hackathons aimed at helping software developers advance their ideas for new products, Longhurst said. Some participants at these events have worked on ways to take actions in UCSD Health’s Epic records system through verbal instructions to a virtual assistant, he said.

“I don’t think we’re necessarily very far from what was shown” by Epic on Tuesday, Longhurst said.

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