Ready To Jump Into Smart Voice Technology? Do a Little Planning First

Smart voice technology has the promise of helping senior centers out in many ways. Thanks to the Internet of Things, smart technology is taking over just about everything  and giving options for more independence.

The Amazon Echo and Google Home offer virtual assistance that can be placed bedside or anywhere in a room. With voice recognition, it can provide a variety of skills from answering questions, reading audiobooks, playing music, making phone calls, controlling lights, or adjusting the temperature. What’s more, virtual assistants listen, curbing back on the loneliness factor that many seniors face, even when they’re in the middle of a senior center.

How about a cane that can see? Smart canes such as the WeWalk can detect obstacles above chest level and provide warnings through vibrations. It can also be activated with voice assistance through a mobile device, and be integrated with Google Maps.

Smart voice technology is changing just about everything we touch. And that can be a good thing on an individual level. But what about in a community where dozens of people are integrating it into their lives all at once?

  • Will devices be used only in private rooms or apartments, or shared in common spaces?
  • Are residents allowed to integrate their own devices into their lives?
  • Will the device be enabled with security based on community policies?
  • Who will be in charge of patches and updates?

Well-meaning families might bring in new technology, knowing it could improve their loved one’s lives. But do all devices meet the requirements of HIPAA? Can they bring in risk, even with a simple device?

HIPAA was designed many years ago. In its purest form, it didn’t anticipate the recent state of IoT and voice activated devices. To counter the current flood of devices to market, states are responding with generalized statements that any use of smart voice technology or IoT devices will have to be compliant with applicable laws.

That pushes the burden on to you.

Skilled nursing facilities must always comply with HIPAA and adopt procedures as new technologies move in. These policies must address employees as well as residents, anticipate and protect all stored data that has any impact on protected health information. Voice technology can be beneficial for workers to add notes to electronic health records, remind a resident to exercise, or update coding or billing information. Annual risk assessments should look both at the technology currently in place, plus make suggestions for what will be allowed during the upcoming year.

Assisted living adds more risk because residents will have private space as well as shared communities. Depending on how the assisted living provider is required to meet state and federal laws will depend on how involved they should become in establishing technology guidelines.

Independent living may not have strict guidelines for security and privacy. However, it still is the job of community property managers to decide how devices will be secured against potential violations. Residents may have their own voice technology, how does that feed into your overall privacy policies? Have residents signed a security agreement that covers the management of things like malware and PHI privacy? What if a voice activated assistant “listens” in when another resident is visiting? If you haven’t considered all your risks, now is the time.

At a minimum, you should have a clear policy on how devices will be brought in and used in your facility. Include what platforms are used, where they are allowed, and where they are prohibited.

Include mandated settings for all smart devices and network requirements to ensure they meet your level of security. Do you require a virtual private network within a resident’s space?

Don’t forget to have policies and post clear visible notices about the use of audio and other recording devices. Smart voice technology has the ability to listen everywhere. People should understand that on every level.

How are you integrating smart voice technology into your community?

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