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We present the thinkers and innovators who are creating new tools and approaches for speech technology—and fostering the next generation of talent.

A Voice for Better Health

Today, voice technology can do a lot more than play your favorite music, search the web, and control devices. It can also do your body good. For proof, meet Ilana Shalowitz, voice user interface (VUI) design manager at Wolters Kluwer Health (WKU)—makers of Emmi products and solutions. Among her many responsibilities, she designs voice automated phone interactions with hospital patients and health insurance policyholders in mind—interactions that educate, support, remind, and motivate them to take actions toward better health. 

These adaptive conversations, initiated by an automated voice assistant that Shalowitz’s design team has created, make the jobs of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers easier. For example, they help patients schedule preventative screenings, check in with them post-surgery, and support them in managing chronic conditions. The technology also identifies which patients out of an entire population require follow-up from a healthcare team.

“There aren’t many companies using voice to enhance the care of patients and patients’ own engagement with their health,” she says. “Through our adaptive conversations, we’re able to offer a level of individualized support to patients that was not previously achievable.”

Consider, for instance, the newly launched EmmiSmart Diabetes program, for which Shalowitz served as project lead. It collects data to trigger automated, longitudinal conversations with diabetes patients—conversations that adapt based on how the patients interact. The program’s rules engine can generate more than 1 million possible conversational pathways; it also answers questions about medications, helps with blood glucose tracking, and suggests appropriate nutrition, exercise, and sleep habits. 

“Among speech technologists, our team is known for the rigor of our design process. We start with a design research phase to deeply understand the needs of patients and clients. From there, we translate our insights into conversations that address both apparent and latent needs,” Shalowitz notes. “Our technology platform, which we built in-house, allows us to tailor communications based on what patients have told us a day, a week, or even a month ago.”

Shalowitz has been called a major influencer in the voice-first design technology space. “Think of a powerful interaction you’ve had. It was the right person with the right message at the right time, and you likely felt you had some part in bringing about that moment. Well, you can apply that same approach to VUI design principles,” she says. “It requires developing a consistent and trustworthy persona. Taking the time to get to know your audience. Sending the message just in time to meet a need. And asking your users questions and guiding them along in your interactions so they’re invested in it and rewarded for participating in the experience.”

Prior to joining WKU in 2015, Shalowitz served as a researcher for the University of Rochester Medical Center’s children’s hospital; a design researcher for Conifer Research; and a medical writer for NorthShore University HealthSystem. Recently, she presented at the 2018 Alexa Conference and the Information Architecture Summit, and she will be keynoting the Voice of Healthcare Summit this August.

Now’s a great time to be working in voice tech, she believes. “There’s the feeling of a mass collaboration effort to bring the industry forward, and it’s exciting to be part of that effort,” says Shalowitz, who, in her spare time, enjoys volunteering for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. “It’s also encouraging to see a myriad of voice-first start-ups focus on inclusivity and accessibility so early on in this new wave of speech technology advancement.”

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