New Alexa skill from Seattle and Boston children’s hospitals takes on flu season

Flu vaccines don’t offer full protection, but they dramatically decrease the risk of getting the flu. (Bigstock Photo)

Kids already have a lot of AI friends to chat with, whether they’re asking Siri to play their favorite song or quizzing Alexa on trivia about blue whales.

But one new Alexa skill is hoping to do more than just entertain the next generation. Seattle Children’s Hospital and Boston Children’s have teamed up to create a new Alexa skill to educate kids and their families about flu and the flu vaccine, aiming to keep kids healthy as flu season approaches.

“We are two hospitals, dedicated to children, learning to build increasing capacity in using smart speakers and home-based AI to build trust in the science and safety in vaccines,” Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson said in a statement. Swanson is a pediatrician and Seattle Children’s chief of digital innovation.

The skill, called Flu Doctor, is available now. It’s particularly notable after last year’s worse-than-normal flu season, in which more than 100 children died from the disease. Getting the flu vaccine dramatically decreases risk of getting the flu, and will make the illness less severe if someone does get sick.

Those interested in getting flu information from Alexa need to search for and enable the Flu Doctor skill in the Alexa smartphone app. Then the user can ask Alexa for information like the nearest flu shot center, how to treat the flu if someone does get sick, and even how to help children who are afraid of needles.

Swanson said the skill is just the first step in leveraging smart speaker systems like Amazon’s Alexa to share public health information. She also said Seattle Children’s hopes to expand the project into other tools and reminders for vaccines.

“We want parents and families to have access to convenient, personalized, science-backed data and recommendations,” she said. “We hope to eventually build a comprehensive vaccine reminder tool based on learnings from this build that will remind, inform, and help families support their children.”

The skill was designed and scripted by Seattle Children’s, with Boston Children’s leading the technical development.

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