The acceptability of voice assistants in nursing and care

When a light comes on in the ward room, no one initially knows what’s going on: an emergency call, someone who needs help getting up, or just a patient craving coffee? If patients in hospitals and nursing homes were to use a voice assistant, nursing staff could save themselves many trips. And an assistant could also eliminate a lot of tedious tasks, for example when it comes to documentation. But is that what nurses want? Would they trust such a system? These are the questions explored by the “dexter” project at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB). Rubin, the RUB’s science magazine, covers their research.

Related to Alexa, but compliant with data protection laws

Custom-made by a project partner, the voice assistance system dexter is a smart speaker just like its relatives Alexa, Siri and Co., but one that complies with data protection regulations. Activated by a code word, it can, for example, establish a voice connection between the patient’s room and the ward. It could suggest a priority to the nursing staff if there are several requests coming from several rooms. It could step in as a translator when communication between staff and patient is tricky due to language barriers. Or it could help with documentation directly at the bedside on the basis of spoken statements, which is something that takes up a lot of time in the daily clinical routine.

“The possibilities are endless,” concludes Professor Sebastian Merkel. The Junior Professor for Health and E-Health at the RUB Faculty of Social Sciences and his team want to know: Which options make sense? What do nurses want? Do patients and people living in care homes accept the system?

Surprisingly few reservations

Merkel and his team held several workshops with nursing staff to discuss their ideas and wishes for a language support system that could be used in compliance with data protection laws. “There’s a common narrative that nurses tend to reject such technical aids in general, because they understand their job to be a caring profession and feel that technology interferes with this aspect,” says Sebastian Merkel.

This is why the researchers were surprised by the results of the workshops: “The participants had only very few reservations about a speech assistance system,” says the researcher. First and foremost, the nurses would like to have support with documentation. Secondly, they listed assistance with exercises in therapy or rehabilitation. In the next step, the researchers want to look at the interaction patterns between people and the device.


The project is being funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research for two years, having started in September 2021. The start-up “dexter health”, which developed the smart speaker specifically for this purpose, is in charge.

Detailed article in science magazine Rubin

You can find a detailed article on this topic in the science magazine Rubin, the “The changing world of work” edition, at [link]. For editorial purposes, the texts on the website may be used free of charge provided the source “Rubin – Ruhr-Universität Bochum” is named, and images from the download page may be used free of charge provided the copyright is mentioned and the terms of use are complied with.



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Tags: AIDS, Coffee, Education, Language, Nursing, Research, Speech

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