Most of us are used to interacting with voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. These tools are great for handling everyday tasks related to scheduling and productivity. They are also pretty good at answering general trivia questions. My colleague and I are voice assistant enthusiasts, and we were curious about how these tools handled more complex questions about health topics. We decided to use questions about vaccines to evaluate how well these tools handle consumer health questions. We pulled questions from CDC FAQs and supplemented them with questions from Answer the Public, a fun tool that provides data about what people are searching for based on Google autosuggest data.
We found that Google and Siri generally did a good job of connecting users with evidence-based answers. Alexa had difficulties understanding the questions and often didn’t provide answers. Voice assistants generally choose health sites that rank highest in web search results to generate answers. However, the growth of third-party apps on these platforms may change results in the future. Partnerships between device manufacturers and trusted health organizations like the NHS may strengthen the quality and consistency of health content delivered on voice platforms. I would love to see content from the National Library of Medicine and the CDC also getting better visibility on these devices.
The full methodology and results of the study are published in BMJ Health and Care Informatics. I also presented our results and commentary at the 2019 International Clinical Librarian Conference in Manchester, UK. The slides from that presentation are available below.