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Contest Finalists Envision Alexa as an mHealth Management Tool

Five finalists in the Alexa Diabetes Challenge are designing platforms that would enable people with type 2 diabetes to use the digital assistant as an mHealth management tool at home.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Amazon and Merck have announced five finalists in a contest to turn the Alexa digital assistant into an mHealth management tool for people with diabetes.

A global tech giant, two mHealth startups and two university-based teams are vying for $125,000 and the opportunity to market their digital health platform to healthcare providers and those with type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that affects some 27.5 million people in the U.S. alone.

The Alexa Diabetes Challenge also highlights the capability of digital assistants to create an interactive care management platform at home for remote monitoring programs for any number of populations, including those with chronic conditions, people living in assisted living facilities, seniors and post-discharge patients.

Digital assistants like Alexa, Google Home and Microsoft Cortana are slowly creeping up on the mHealth horizon, aided in part by a strong public relations campaign and a Tractica report that places one in more than 40 million homes by 2021. They’ve made splashy headlines this year at both the CES 2017 show in Las Vegas and the Health Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS) conference and exhibition in Orlando.

“It really changes the game for patient engagement,” Nathan Treloar, president and COO of Orbita, a Boston-based provider of connected home healthcare technology that debuted a cloud-based platform and interface for intelligent voice assistants at HIMSS17, said in an interview earlier this year. “The ability to have that ‘always on and always available’ interaction with a patient is huge. It will give [healthcare providers] new visibility into what the patient is experiencing at home.”

“Voice technology like Amazon Alexa can dramatically improve user experience by providing the ability for people to interact with devices at a more personal level,” Steve Halliwell, Amazon Web Services’ director of healthcare and life sciences, said in a press release. “These finalists showcase how one day people may use Alexa skills and fully integrated AWS services to create new healthcare scenarios.”

The five finalists in the challenge are:

  • DiaBetty, a virtual diabetes educator and at-home coach that responds to the patient's mood, enhancing patient skills for self-management. Developed by a team from the University of Illinois.
  • T2D2: Taming type 2 diabetes, together, a virtual nutrition assistant that uses machine learning to provide personalized education and recommendations, meal planning and food and glucose logging. Developed by a team at Columbia University and led by Elliot Mitchell, a biomedical informatics PhD student.
  • My GluCoach, a holistic management solution that serves as a diabetes teacher, lifestyle coach and personal assistant to serve the individual and specific needs of the patient. Designed by HCL America.
  • PIA: Personal intelligent agents for type 2 diabetes, a connected care intelligent agent that uses NASA-licensed AI technology integrated with IoT device data to encourage healthy habits, detect at-risk behaviors and abnormalities and alert care teams. Designed by Ejenta.
  • Sugarpod, a multimodal solution, including a smart foot scanner, that provides specialized voice, mobile, video and web interactions based on the task and patient preferences to support patient adherence to comprehensive care plans. Designed by Wellpepper.

“Voice is a great interface for people who are mobility or vision challenged, and the design of Amazon Echo makes it an unobtrusive home device,” Anne Weiler, Wellpepper’s CEO and co-founder, said in a recent blog describing the company’s participation in the challenge. “While a mobile treatment plan is always with you, the Amazon Echo is central in the home.”

“At one point, we thought television would be the next logical screen to support patients with their home treatment plans, but it seems like the Echo Show is going to be more powerful and still quite accessible to a large number of people,” she added.

The finalists will each receive $25,000 and 10,000 AWS promotional credits and participate in a Virtual Accelerator and an Innovators’ Boot Camp at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters.

At the end of the Virtual Accelerator, they will present their solutions to a panel of judges – including representatives of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University - at Demo Day at the AWS Pop-up loft in New York City.

The challenge, launched in April, is sponsored by Merck, supported by Amazon Web Services and powered by Luminary Labs.  The five finalists were culled from a field of 96 submissions. 

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