By Mark Steedman, PhD, Research Manager, Centre for Health Solutions


“Alexa… Volume up!”

Like many children his age, my four-year old nephew loves the Frozen soundtrack, and he recently figured out how to turn up the volume from anywhere in the room without having to be close to the speaker. He uses the voice assistant that’s always on and always listening.

I remember when the first voice assistant became available on my phone. I was excited by the fanfare, but the initial excitement quickly waned as I realised that for many tasks a quick hand-held search was still a faster or more accurate way to find information. More recently, voice assistants have become much more effective and are quickly becoming integrated into our everyday lives.

Voice assistants are used to send messages, dial calls, set timers, check the weather, play music, search for general information, control smart devices in the home and many other applications. Increasingly, voice activated applications are also supporting people’s health care needs. I’ll go into some of these applications later in this blog, but first let’s take a look at some general data about voice assistants from the 2018 Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey: The UK Cut (GMCS).

Voice assistants are now common in nearly all smartphones, tablets and PCs, and also in many new TVs, home appliances and even cars. However, a pre-loaded voice assistant in a device does not guarantee it is ever used. In the UK, 88 per cent of the population (aged 16-75) have a smartphone, but only 34 per cent of the population have ever used the device’s voice assistant (see Figure 1). Usage of voice assistants on other types of devices are even lower, as only 15 per cent of respondents have used a voice assistant on a tablet, compared to 13 per cent on a PC. Similarly, only 12 per cent of respondents own or have access to a voice assisted (smart) speaker like Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod or Google Home (among many others), and only eight per cent of respondents have ever used a voice assistant on a smart speaker.

Figure 1. Device penetration (left) and usage of voice assistants (right)

Figure 1_blog_updated 1802
Weighted base: All respondents aged 16-75 years (4,150)
Source: UK edition, Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, Jun 2018

However, those who have a smart speaker use the voice assistant frequently, with 55 per cent of respondents using the voice assistant within the past day (see Figure 2). The GMCS predicts that smart speaker adoption will continue to grow and calculates that if adoption grows at the same rate as last year, smart speakers will displace the smartphone as the most commonly used device to interact with a voice assistant.

Figure 2. Voice assistant's frequency of usage on voice assisted speakers


Weighted base: All respondents aged 16-75 years who use voice assistants on Voice assisted speaker (315)
Source: UK edition, Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, Jun 2018

Figure 3 shows the top five reasons respondents use voice assistants. For the smartphone, 54 per cent search for general information, while the other top reasons are to search for weather updates, to dial a person in your contact list, to set up alarms or timers and to play music. Conversely, playing music is the top reason to use a voice assistant on a smart speaker, which 77 per cent of respondents mentioned.

Figure 3. Top 5 reasons to use voice assistants on smartphones and voice assisted speakers

Figure 3_final_updated_1802Weighted base: All respondents aged 16-75 years who use voice assistants on smartphones (1,325) and all respondents aged 16-75 years who use voice assistants on Voice assisted speaker (315)
Source: UK edition, Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, Jun 2018

In health care, the applications are quite different, with voice activated technology able to engage patients and caregivers in new ways. However, we are only at the early stages of unlocking its potential. One area of particular interest is in patient discharge. For example, rather than receiving a series of printed leaflets or paper based instructions that can be overwhelming for a patient to understand, a dermatology centre in the US gives patients a smart speaker. The clinic uses the device’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to provide consistent information, answer patients’ questions and help them manage their health care following discharge.1

Voice activated apps that answer self-care questions for everyday minor health care issues, from cuts and scrapes to fevers and burns, are also becoming more prominent.2 Similarly, there are apps that answer parents’ questions about their child’s medication dosing and symptoms. Other apps provide details of waiting times and directions to nearby hospitals and urgent care locations, monitor patients and remind them about medications or upcoming appointments, and provide a means of accessing a health care professional.3

Hospitals are starting to use speech recognition dictation software that allows health care professionals to record notes simply by speaking them. These and other applications of voice assistants are helping to improve the quality of hospital care by helping to reduce waiting and treatment times, expedite diagnosis and reduce adverse events.4

Voice assistants can also improve the patient experience while in hospital. Early applications included automating simple tasks, such as allowing a patient to order lunch. One AI enabled patient communication solution, known as DeloitteASSIST, enables patients to request assistance by speaking the request. Nurses are alerted to the need, with AI prioritising and smart-routing requests to the right resource to meet the patient’s needs. The patient receives immediate feedback that their request is being dealt with, and staff can prioritise their responses efficiently and effectively.5

As machine learning and other AI algorithms become more adept at improving voice activated technology, applications in health care will continue to expand. The ability to use the technology for diagnostics is one of the most exciting applications, with efforts to use voice analysis to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression and even heart disease already underway.6

Voice assistants are still in the early stages of impacting our lives – whether through health care or in everyday tasks – and they will proliferate in the coming years, becoming more accurate and featuring in more devices. The ease of use of voice assistants – as evidenced by my nephew’s prowess at such a young age – makes it clear that this type of technology will deeply impact specific areas of our lives much more than just being able to play Let it go loudly and on repeat, with numerous applications capable of improving health care coming to the fore.

About the GMCS research

The Global Mobile Consumer Survey 2018: The UK Cut is part of a multi-country study of mobile phone users around the world. The 2018 study comprises approximately 54,150 respondents across 35 countries and six continents. Data from The UK Cut are based on a nationally representative sample of 4,150 UK consumers aged 16-75. The sample follows a country specific quota on age, gender, region and socio-economic status. Fieldwork took place during June 2018 and was carried out online by Ipsos MORI, an independent research firm, based on a question set provided by Deloitte.


Dr Mark Steedman (PhD)- Research Manager, Deloitte UK Centre for Health Solutions

Mark is the Research Manager for the Deloitte UK Centre for Health Solutions. Until November 2016, he was the Institute Manager and a Policy Fellow at the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London, where he supported research on palliative and end-of-life care, maternal and child health, design, philanthropy and electronic health records. Mark has a PhD from the UC Berkeley - UCSF Graduate Programme in Bioengineering, where he worked with Professor Tejal Desai on retinal tissue engineering and drug delivery. He also completed a Whitaker International Postdoctoral Fellowship with Professor Molly Stevens in the Departments of Materials and Bioengineering at Imperial College London.

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