Last year 180 children died in the United States from influenza infections or complications from the infection. And like many seasons before, about 80% of those children who died didn’t get a flu shot. As many pediatricians and parents remember, the influenza (“flu”) season was robust last year, coming on earlier than we expected, driving many children into serious-enough infections to require hospitalization, and causing tragedy in way too many families.

Influenza is predictably unpredictable so layering protections in our families can help (get flu shots, wash hands, stay home when ill, stay away from those who are sick). But the reality is, some people can spread influenza infection even before they feel symptoms, so there’s no fool-proof way in outsmarting the virus. Basically, influenza is gnarly and can be super gnarly some seasons. No way to know which kind of year it will be.

The wonderful thing about 2018 is that we have a vaccine for that. The flu shot and influenza nasal spray!

Alexa Flu Skill: Flu Doctor

We’re launching a new communication technology this week to help get the word out on ways to prevent influenza infections and reduce the likelihood of ever getting, or dying from, flu. We use the word “flu” because everyone else does but we clearly know we’re talking about one specific virus called Influenza.

The new Alexa skill is already waiting for you in your Alexa speaker — but you have to enable it. The goal here in doing so is for parents to gain more trust in the flu vaccine and the science behind recommendations, access accurate influenza information as flu season unfolds, and expand ways to help families understand the benefit of vaccination in preventing influenza. Our digital health innovation team at Seattle Children’s partnered with the digital health and innovation team at Boston Children’s Hospital in collaboration to build the “Flu Doctor.” It’s got flu shot information and answers to questions you may have — right in your kitchen — if you have an Alexa smart speaker. It’s live today and full of information, but I’ll also keep you updated as the flu season progresses with regular updates on how influenza is affecting families, the protection provided by influenza vaccinations, and additional ways you can protect your family.

Really this is just the beginning in learning how to use tools like Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker to connect you with vetted information. We want to learn how to support families in understanding immunizations at large by starting with one vaccine in particular. We’re dreaming up skills that will help remind you to get your child vaccinated (imagine how nice it will be when your child turns 4 and your smart speaker explains what shots she needs and WHY and then helps you schedule an appointment)!

Our Flu Doctor responses (and my recordings) were vetted with communication experts at The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), pediatric infectious disease experts, and the WA State Department of Health. Our skill offers responses and education on a variety of influenza topics. When you open the skill with Alexa (say, “Alexa, open Flu Doctor”) she will allow for a two-way conversation about influenza, influenza vaccination, and support you in finding the closest location for a flu shot. More in this skill:

  • Who should get a flu shot (everyone over 6 months of age).
  • When you should get a flu shot (read: now).
  • Common side effects of flu shots (soreness at the injection site, sometimes fever in young children, & malaise).
  • Treatments & remedies for influenza infections (OTC medicines, prescription anti-flu medicines if started within 48 hours of symptom onset).
  • Where you can get a flu shot. The skill has awesome integration powered by Vaccine Finder. You can ask Flu Doctor to find the 3 closest locations to your home or office.
  • How to help with needle fear and children who are scared of shots.
  • Support for families with allergies (no need to avoid flu shots with an egg allergy).
  • Data for pregnant moms and ways to protect newborn babies (get flu shot, pass on antibodies to baby in 3rd trimester).
  • Efficacy statistics — how well the vaccine has worked in the past and how well it’s working this year (updates as data unfolds).
  • Common symptoms and ways to know or suspect influenza and tips on when to call the doctor.
  • Types of vaccine available this year (flu shot versus nasal spray, and the 2 new strains included in this year’s flu shot).

The Flu Doctor skill includes about a dozen video responses for those who own an Alexa Show (a smart speaker with a smart screen).

As a pediatrician in digital health, I want to learn about how families may want to use Alexa to help in their homes and family decisions around prevention and health care. Will you please enable the skill on your Alexa device and try it out? I would love to hear your feedback. What do you like? What could we improve? What questions didn’t we answer? We have two awesome teams ready to improve this skills as time unfolds…and keep building more.