Improving Clinical Research through Voice Assistance

Karin Beckstrom | |

“Alexa, remind me to take my medication today.” “Hey Google, when is my next doctor’s appointment?” These are not uncommon statements heard in homes around the world today, as more and more people come to rely on smart speakers to simplify and manage many aspects of their daily lives, including their health.   

But, could the rising adoption of these devices and the continuing advances in voice assistance technology also play a role in the world of new pharmaceutical clinical development?

The answer is yes!

voice assistance in clinical trials will transform the way the industry conducts clinical research.Growing Adoption of Voice Technology

Voice Assistants (VA) are defined as digital assistants that use voice recognition, natural language processing and speech synthesis to provide aid to users through phones and voice recognition applications, including internet-connected smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Smart Assistant . 

The affordability and ease-of-use of these smart speakers have driven rapid adoption of the technology worldwide. At this point, 1 in 6 American’s own one. 1 And it’s predicted that this trend will continue, with reports estimating that 2018 will see 56.3 million units shipped globally, compared to 33 million units in 2017. 2

Smart speaker adoption grows significantly in 2018It’s no wonder that the advances in voice assistance technology and the wide spread adoption of smart speakers is grabbing the attention of pharmaceutical researchers, who are striving to meet the challenges of new product development by simplifying clinical trial participation and keeping patients better engaged during clinical trials.   

Voice Assistants in Clinical Research

The patients’ voice is key in clinical research. In addition to determining the effect a new medical treatment has on objective measures, like blood pressure, blood sugar levels, etc. most pharmaceutical companies are increasingly placing great value on patient-centric outcomes during clinical development.  Clinical trial patients are frequently asked to respond to questionnaires to rate a drug’s effect on symptom relief and other, more subjective quality of life measures, so that pharma can gain greater insight to the full treatment effect a medication has on patient well-being.   

So, it should be no surprise that many in the industry are exploring the use of voice technology to capture the patient voice in clinical research. And, in many ways, voice assistance in clinical trials is not a new concept.

Voice assistance is the next iteration of interactive voice response (IVR). For decades, IVR has been used via the telephone, allowing people to verbally select ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a set of pre-determined questions. But, to many, this approach is often seen as being more frustrating than useful. Technological advances in artificial intelligence (AI) enable smart speakers to engage much more naturally with their users, and are able to respond to a wide range of commands in a conversational manner.

Voice:  The Next Frontier

In recent years, pharmaceutical developers have started to explore more technologies to improve patient engagement and collect better quality data during clinical trials. Voice assistance has already rapidly established itself as a powerful tool for use in the home and for business, so it’s no surprise the pharmaceutical industry is taking interest for clinical trials. Rapid growth in consumer adoption of VA-enabled smart speakers means that they are set to become a key tool to support patient engagement and data collection during clinical trials.


Read part 2 of the series where we explore more of the benefits sponsors can realize by using voice assistance in clinical trials.


Karin Beckstrom is a Senior Product Manager at ERT.



  1. summary of NPR and Edison Research report, January 2018
  2. summary of Canalys report, January 2018