• 6Sep

    Patient and Consumer Safety Risks When Using Conversational Assistants for Medical Information

    Patient and Consumer Safety Risks When Using Conversational Assistants for Medical Information: An Observational Study of Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant (from JMIR):

    Conversational assistants, such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, are ubiquitous and are beginning to be used as portals for medical services. However, the potential safety issues of using conversational assistants for medical information by patients and consumers are not understood.

    The objective of this study was to determine the prevalence and nature of the harm that could result from patients or consumers using conversational assistants for medical information.

    Participants were given medical problems to pose to Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant, and asked to determine an action to take based on information from the system. Assignment of tasks and systems were randomized across participants, and participants queried the conversational assistants in their own words, making as many attempts as needed until they either reported an action to take or gave up. Participant-reported actions for each medical task were rated for patient harm using an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality harm scale.

    Fifty-four subjects completed the study. Only 8 reported using a conversational assistant regularly, while 22 had never used one, and 24 had tried one “a few times.“ Forty-four used computers regularly. Subjects were only able to complete 168 of their 394 tasks. Of these, 49 reported actions that could have resulted in some degree of patient harm, including 27 that could have resulted in death.

    They conclude that reliance on conversational assistants for actionable medical information represents a safety risk for patients and consumers. Patients should be cautioned to not use these technologies for answers to medical questions they intend to act on without further consultation from a health care provider.

    Bickmore TW, Trinh H, Olafsson S, O’Leary TK, Asadi R, Rickles NM, Cruz R
    Patient and Consumer Safety Risks When Using Conversational Assistants for Medical Information: An Observational Study of Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant
    J Med Internet Res 2018;20(9):e11510
    DOI: 10.2196/11510
    PMID: 30181110

    Find the full article here: http://www.jmir.org/2018/9/e11510/