New tech aims to be the Alexa of benefits and healthcare

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You can ask virtual assistants — like Amazon Alexa and Google Home — to play your favorite music or what the weather will be like. But what if you could ask them how much you’ll pay out of pocket at urgent care?

That’s the goal with new voice activated device WellBe, created by health and wellness platform HandsFree Health. WellBe responds to voice commands like other virtual assistants, except this model can be programmed to answer questions based on the owner’s individual healthcare and benefits information. That’s why the company says it hopes to roll out the new device to employers as part of their benefits package.

“All voice activated technology that’s currently on the market is for entertainment, but there really is a need to help people understand healthcare — it’s something employers are really concerned about,” says Janice Washeleski, chief commercial sales and marketing officer at HandsFree Health.

Washeleski says the company’s founders wanted to create an easy, accessible way for people to access their healthcare information at home. They chose voice-activated technology because a study by Juniper Research suggests the devices are gaining traction; the study projects 275 million people worldwide will use voice activated technology in their homes by 2023.

“HandsFree Health makes it easier for consumers to integrate healthcare into their daily lives with WellBe,” says Mike Cardillo, co-founder and president of HandsFree Health. “As more people add voice assistant technology to their homes, HandsFree Health empowers users to take control of their health in a secure and HIPAA compliant environment 24/7.”

Consumers can plug in their health information into WellBe using their insurance ID, but HandsFree will program devices purchased by employers for their workforce. With this information, WellBe can answer questions about which medical practices are in-network, how much the employee pays in deductibles and the out-of-pocket costs for specific medical procedures. WellBe also sets reminders for appointments and taking medication. Washeleski says the reminders encourage employees to use primary and preventative care, thereby reducing employer costs for healthcare.

“Companies are always looking to control their costs, and medical compliance is a big part of that,” Washeleski says. “With WellBe, household decision-makers will have easy, 24/7 access to information that helps them make cost-efficient choices for themselves, and their employer.”

HandsFree representatives said they’re open to creating more customized responses for employer-sponsored WellBes. Washeleski said HandsFree can program the device to answer HR-related questions, using answers supplied by the employer. HR can also use WellBe to send company-wide messages, she says.

“[Employers] may want to be able to tap into WellBe by setting off reminders for their employees — it could be for open enrollment or benefits they want employees to know about. Or to alert about changes to their benefit plans,” Washeleski says.

WellBe can also answer questions about symptoms and call 911 in medical emergencies. Users can designate emergency contacts for WellBe to notify in medical emergencies. Additionally, the device has all the entertainment features included in other voice assistant devices; including music, audio books, sports and weather updates. The platform is working with veterinarians to create answers for pet care, Washeleski said.

“We felt the entertainment and extra features were standard with these kinds of devices,” Washeleski says. “The healthcare and benefits aspect is what makes us unique, so that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

The company plans to sell WellBe directly to the public and employers by late summer. Test groups consisting of consumers and benefit brokers will receive the device within the next two months, Washeleski says.

“As time goes on, it will be interesting to see what content employers want to update it with,” she says.

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