We don’t usually cover patents in Health Tech Insider; there’s little likelihood that any given patent ever will result in a commercial product. But digital voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri are training consumers to engage with the digital world with conversation. Alexa leads the pack both in smart home device sales and in its encyclopedic selection of apps referred to as Alexa Skills. Amazon aggressively promotes its Alexa Skills Kit and other program tools and capabilities for developers and consumers, deepening device and human engagement while building market share.

We’ve written about Alexa applications that assist ambulance attendants and support seniors aging-at-home. We also wrote about Nuance Communications and Epic’s voice-enabled virtual assistance platform that helps physicians with electronic health records (EHRs). A recent patent approval suggests that sometime in the near future consumers at home may ask, “Hey Alexa, how am I feeling today?”

Amazon may or may not be planning to use Alexa to assess consumers’ physical or emotional characteristics from their voices, but now it has a patent for the technology. The U.S. Patent Office granted Amazon patent #10,096,319 for “Voice-based determination of physical and emotional characteristics of users.” While it’s significant that the patent title refers to “users” rather than “patients,” the technology could support a range of health and medical applications. When connected to an ecosystem of wearable and home-based sensors, the system could have a rich data set for analysis.

It will be interesting to observe new fitness, health, and wellness-related Alexa skills as they appear. We may see wearable devices marketed with associated Alexa skills. Rather than pull up a graphic or a report on a smartphone, perhaps someday we’ll ask, “Hey, Alexa, how was my heart rate variability on my walk today?”