Why Echo Dots are stationed across Houston Methodist

"Alexa, what are the side effects of amoxicillin?"

This question is one of many addressed by hundreds of Amazon Echo Dots across Houston Methodist, according to Ghalib Abbasi, PharmD, the system's director of pharmacy informatics. 

When the eight-hospital system installed Echo Dots in patient rooms and its central pharmacy in late 2020, the initial goal was to digitally connect patients and pharmacists. After a patient asked the smart speaker about a medication, the inquiry was sent to a pharmacist, who then accessed the patient's chart and called the room to provide an answer. 

Houston Methodist realized most of these Q&As could be automated, so the project evolved to create a database of the top three side effects for medicines. Houston Methodist's clinical pharmacists crafted the information from their own data on drug side effects common in hospital settings, versus general side effects found in a simple Google search. 

The Echo Dots can also offer patients general information about medications. Now, instead of sending the question to a shared mailbox for the pharmacy department, the conversation is tracked and documented as an In Basket message in Epic, according to Dr. Abbasi.

The devices also connect the IV room to the pharmacy department, which can reduce the possibility of contamination, and expedite order verification and administration of bleeding reversal agents.

"[The system's pharmacists] love it. They love it," he said. "It has been just easing their job, big time. They're small enough to be placed anywhere. Very user friendly and intuitive for us, because lots of people have them in their homes."

At three of the system's hospitals, the time for orders to be signed and medication to be administered decreased by 35% to 75%.

The devices are encrypted to block invasions from outside the hospital, and if the devices leave the campus, they won't work. 

The major limitation to answering patients' questions about side effects and general information is that patients have to start the conversation, Dr. Abbasi told Becker's. Since the first installation, use of the Echo Dots has decreased from three times a week to once a month as alternative strategies and solutions at Houston Methodist emerged.

A future plan is to engineer the smart speakers to connect pharmacists to Epic EHR content. 

For example, pharmacists could ask, "Hey, Alexa, tell me about the difference between John Smith's home medications and inpatient medications. Or, hey Alexa, tell me today's labs for John Smith," Dr. Abbasi said, adding that this new tool would be HIPAA compliant since designed for Houston Methodist pharmacist use only.

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