WHEN someone goes into cardiac arrest, survival depends on how quickly the heart can be restarted. Enter Amazon’s Echo, a voice-driven computer that answers to the name of Alexa, which can recite life-saving instructions about cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a skill taught to it by the American Heart Association. Alexa is accumulating other health-care skills, too, including acting as a companion for the elderly and answering questions about children’s illnesses. In the near future she will probably help doctors with grubby hands to take notes and to request scans, as well as remind patients to take their pills.
Alexa is one manifestation of a drive to disrupt an industry that has so far largely failed to deliver on the potential of digital information. Health care is over-regulated and expensive to innovate in, and has a history of failing to implement ambitious IT projects. But the momentum towards a digital future is gathering pace. Investment into digital health care has soared (see chart).