WebMD’s new Alexa health skill should go to pharmacy school
The company's Alexa skill didn't understand drug names. Google Home performed much better.
WebMD just launched an Alexa skill that promises to answer health and medical questions. But it seems there’s a lot it doesn’t know.
The company’s press release offers a number of sample questions the assistant can potentially answer, such as:
- “Alexa, ask WebMD to tell me about type 2 diabetes.”
- “Alexa, ask WebMD to tell me about amoxicillin.”
- “Alexa, ask WebMD what is an echocardiogram.”
- “Alexa, ask WebMD what are the side effects of steroids.”
The user reviews on Amazon generally fault the skill for not being able understand drug names, however. This was consistent with my experience. I asked about a number of prescription and generic drugs (e.g., acetaminophen). It was unable to recognize most of them, even after repeated, slow attempts.
It was able to answer some basic questions about health and medical symptoms (“What’s the best way to treat a cold?”). But the overall experience is frustrating.
Google Home performed dramatically better than the WebMD skill across the same set of drug and side effects-related questions. It was able to recognize drug names and provided answers to all my questions. Admittedly, this wasn’t a systematic test, but it illustrates the potentially significant advantages that Google’s vast index and speech recognition capabilities bring to the competition.