01/23/2013 10:37 am ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

The Voice of Reason: (Maybe Not) for Emergency Use Only

Every medical population in the U.S. has a running list of priorities. As a parent of a 10-year-old child with anaphylactic food allergies and asthma, my son's emergency medical protocol, which includes always having access to injectable ephinedrine (his Epipen) is one of a few daily concerns. Every time he leaves the house, I must be able to answer these questions: Does he have his Epipen nearby? Who will administer his Epipen if he needs it? What if his grandparent/teacher/sitter gets confused?

Though I'm never without my iPhone, laptop and Kindle, I still felt a bit like Judy Jetson when I heard there may be a new voice-guided medical device called the Auvi-Q, providing audible and visible cues (thus the name) for correct administration. I was skeptical: Could a life-saving injection really "talk" clearly and explain itself without printed instructions? And why would I prefer to rely on technology rather than the tried-and-true written word? But after attending a social media conference surrounding the Auvi-Q, I'm now thinking that voice-guided medical technology could address communication problems that can arise in several areas of public health. No one asked me to write here, on this topic (however, Sanofi US did cover my transportation expenses to and from this conference, from my home in NYC to New Jersey). Rather, I think the notion of this merging technology isn't just kind of cool -- it's large-scale, utilitarian thinking.

The "voice" part of the technology is crystal clear. Here is a video demonstration of the Auvi-Q featuring a teenage boy. Unlike my home telephone, my GPS, and other gadgets that announce their unhappy proximity to a human voice with distracting mispronunciations, the Auvi-Q was calm and precise. More so than I imagine the voice in my head might sound, if and when I must make an injection into my son's thigh during an anaphylactic progression. And so much so that I wondered if a similar technology might be used for other individuals who need similar injections or medication.

My elderly mother gives herself a daily calcium supplement using a small needle. When she first began doing so, the instructions confused her. Her doctor advised her to attend a group instructional session where one nurse guided more than 40 people through their process. Yet, even after that session she still felt uncomfortable with the process. Why, you may well ask, didn't he have the 10 minutes for his patient to review the self-procedure? A lecture theater may be appropriate for Chemistry 101, in the company of hundreds of people who are never going to use the information again. But these were patients being asked to manage self-care. After that session, my mother still felt uncomfortable with the process. Imagine if that tiny print on prescription bottles could be heard instead of squinted at. Voice-guided instructions may indeed be helpful to patients in every age population, with a variety of medical needs.

Ideally, every patient requiring daily or emergency medication would have a nurse or doctor with ample time to help them become comfortable with a new medication or an emergency medical intervention. But the reality of increasing health care costs and the decrease in budgets for school nurses suggest that "smarter" medical devices could become as essential as all the other tech devices that help me do what I need to for my family.

For more by Susan Weissman, click here.

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