Google is Expanding its "Assistant" Tool — Here's What That Means for Healthcare Marketers

Google Assistant

Google now makes up a third of the voice assistant market. With new updates coming online every day, healthcare marketers should become familiar with its capabilities.

As voice search becomes increasingly popular worldwide, Google Assistant is adding features to compete with options like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Some 27% of people use voice search on mobile, and Juniper Research estimates that 3.25 billion voice assistants are already in use globally. With Google’s announcement in January 2019 that Assistant has expanded to 1 billion devices, this tool alone makes up about a third of the market.

In fact, Google has introduced several new Assistant capabilities that could change the scene for voice technology. These updates are opening up new opportunities for medical marketers, as patients and doctors incorporate these increasingly robust tools into healthcare.

Google Assistant Grows

Google Assistant capabilities are expanding to tens of millions of additional devices, including its low-end KaiOs operating system. These devices are especially popular with users in India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Brazil. It may seem surprising to bring a high-end feature to lower-cost devices, but Google suggests that many of these markets are coming online for the first time, so voice search may feel more natural to them. That means Google Assistant could make a big impact in these emerging markets  — and in fact, the number of voice users in these markets has multiplied by a factor of seven.

This “natural” interaction with Google Assistant could be especially crucial for medical searches, as many people with lower tech literacy may feel uncertain of how to conduct health searches. Being able to speak to the device as if to a person, and receive immediate health advice, makes the process less intimidating. This coincides with a major jump in Assistant’s language translation and listening abilities, which could actually help medical professionals in every country, including the U.S., better communicate with patients of all backgrounds.

This rapid expansion in voice search could influence results for healthcare marketers. Although ads are not yet available through Google Assistant, organic search does matter. Because voice assistant users are more likely to use complete sentences or questions, with more words per query, marketers should be sure to factor this into their strategies. Long-tail keywords, location-based keywords, and question formulations may all become more important for ranking in voice search.

Proposing Local Options

One of the new updates involves Google Assistant proposing local options for activities by “listening in” to your text conversations. When you text a friend about movies or restaurants, Google Assistant will show you local search results, which you can choose to view and scroll through. You can then select one of these options to send as a message within the conversation, making it simple and natural to propose an option without leaving the app.

So far, this feature is limited to restaurants and movies, but it has the potential to expand to additional options. Hospitals, medical practices, health services, and more could all potentially be integrated into this feature as organic options if a user types certain keywords like “sick,” “doctor,” or whatever else the AI algorithm determines. While this feature is not ready for healthcare use just yet, marketers should keep an eye on this capability as it develops.

Voice Assistants in Healthcare

Important changes aren’t just coming top-down from companies like Google. It’s crucial for marketers to understand how health practices and patients currently use voice technology, and what third-party tools are being developed for voice compatibility.

In many cases, voice assistants are already helping patients receive the care they need. Doctors can use Google Assistant to search for symptoms or other information in a hands-free, seamless manner. They can quickly use these devices to take notes on a patient, rather than fill out tedious paperwork — potentially saving them more than half their workday. In hospitals, virtual assistants allow patients to ask questions about their treatment and schedule, or call nurses as needed. In fact, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has already experimented with placing these devices in patients’ rooms.

Many patients at home, on the go, or in their cars already use Google to search for symptoms, health solutions, and other medical information. It makes sense that they would similarly turn to Google Assistant for help with their medical questions. Patients are also likely to use voice assistants to book doctor appointments, or even call for an ambulance — especially if they are injured and cannot dial the number themselves.

Some health companies are exploring tie-ins with voice assistants as well. For instance, the Mayo Clinic’s First Aid tool, now available on Google Assistant, allows patients to immediately find quality health advice, like CPR instructions. Other practices are deliberately choosing third-party appointment tools that are compatible with voice assistants in order to allow more seamless and “smart” booking.

The Impact for Healthcare Marketers

With the rise of voice search worldwide, healthcare marketers would do well to keep an eye on trends. Not all of Google’s current updates are immediately relevant to healthcare marketers, but it pays to be aware. With Assistant making up a third of the marketer worldwide, it’s crucial to figure out the role this will have in the healthcare industry. Voice Search is already making a difference for doctors and hospitals, but the impact is sure to go beyond that. Over the next few years we can expect to see changes in how patients search for health advice and even find local health options.

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