Humana Shares Findings From Experiments With Alexa

At Humana Inc., leaders are increasingly excited about the potential for voice-powered digital assistants to help improve home-based care for Medicare Advantage (MA) members, according to Jessie Gatto, the company’s senior innovation strategist and information designer.

And Humana’s interest in the technology has only been further fueled by the rising rate of adoption of devices like Amazon Inc.’s Echo, Gatto said during a Aug. 29 webinar hosted by Orbita, Inc., which provides a platform for health care organizations to design, build and deploy virtual assistants aimed at improving user experience and engagement across various applications, such as care management and customer service.

“We see a lot of excitement, but we also recognize there’s a lot of hype, which is a normal part of any new technology being introduced,” Gatto said. So, “one of our first priorities was making clear, where does voice help?”

To that end, the insurer sees the following potential use cases for voice-powered interactions with members:

Virtual care management, which could be an extension of services that care managers are already providing, like discharge instructions.

Care planning, which might include medication reminders, managing clinical appointments and even arranging transportation to appointments.

Condition monitoring, including integrated, remote-monitoring devices as well as self-reported conditions and symptoms.

Voice-driven telehealth, which could involve not only virtual consultations with physicians but also AI-based consults or triaging to direct members to the right care option

Benefit navigation, or answering a question such as “where can I go for urgent care that’s nearest to me and covered by my plan?” All of that said, Humana set out to first understand the technology and how members interact with voice platforms. The insurer also wanted to explore such platforms’ potential for creating health care value — with the understanding that there are major limitations because they’re not yet compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Tech Aversion Was an Issue

Humana spent a year and a half exploring the use of Alexa-powered devices at a senior living facility near Louisville, Kentucky, and through SeniorBridge, a home care offering of Humana At Home. And its experimentation produced a variety of findings.

For one, while many people were excited about the technology, there was a considerable amount of “tech aversion” among seniors, according to Gatto. However, “it’s really not about ease of use — it’s just that they generally don’t see any need to try new technology,” she said. “They are completely fine with analog tools they’ve been using for a long time.”

There were also challenges with setting up the devices, connecting to them to the Internet and getting individuals comfortable with how to get Alexa to respond to a query or command. Further, it was difficult to obtain ongoing engagement among some users, as they kept forgetting to use the device.

Humana did discover some ways to help boost engagement, though, such as nudging seniors to use the devices with an alarm or having a family member call at a specific time, and customizing features like music playlists and news sources for users.

Humana is not the only health insurer to enter the voice-controlled devices space. In March, Cigna Corp. launched the “Answers by Cigna” skill for Amazon Alexa, which provides instant answers to more than 150 commonly asked health benefits questions, such as “what’s a formulary?”

“Voice control offers an exciting and innovative way for Cigna to educate and engage people about health care in a way that is convenient for them,” Rowena Track, vice president of digital marketing at Cigna, said in a press release.

View a replay of the webinar at and Cigna’s release at

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