4 Tips for Creating Engaging Voice-based Apps


Voice interfaces are here to stay. There are currently more than 50,000 skills for Alexa and more Alexa medical skills hit the market every day. Even giants like Amazon are getting in the game by creating a suite of HIPAA-compliant voice interfaces that promise to keep health data confidential and secure.

The Problem

However, as Gavin Price pointed out in his recent article “Critical Considerations for Voice-Based Applications”, designing apps for effective use of voice assistants in healthcare is difficult. That’s largely because designing something that is simple and effective is, well… complicated. Although there are many skills for Alexa, many of them end up failing. Everyone wants to know how to create an Alexa skill that’s effective. This happens for two reasons: the skill tries to do too much or the skill’s value is unclear to users. Often, these go hand in hand.

Ahmed Albaiti, Medullan’s CEO, offers clear advice on how to negate these problems of voice assistants in healthcare : “Get simple and meet an established need. That could mean reminding people to test their blood sugar or take a baby aspirin each morning.”

For example, look at the highly-rated Alexa skill “My Better Nutrition” by Registered Dietitian Ashley Koff. Her voice skill has two central features to help the average person eat healthier: a daily informational tip and a nutrition-focused FAQ. The information she provides is incredibly valuable to her skill’s users, as evidenced by the skill’s 4.9 star rating in the Alexa store, and it provides that information in two simple ways.

4 Tips for Success

So, how do you create a simple and engaging voice interface? Here are 4 tips to keep in mind:

Know Your User. A key principle in user-centered design is building an understanding of and empathy for the people who will be using your products. This principle is just as important for voice design as it is for graphical and other types of design. Make sure to identify your users, understand their particular needs, and think about how to effectively solve their problems.

Provide Clear Value. The healthcare space holds incredible potential for being able to provide valuable products to our users. Whether we are designing for patients with chronic wounds, primary care providers with busy practices, or commercial payers with the goal of improving access for their many customers, our users have distinct needs that we can provide valuable solutions for. The voice app’s value should be clearly articulated throughout the experience, so that the user has no doubts about why they should use this product.

Stay Focused. A voice-first application doesn’t have to do 1000 things to be successful. In fact, you will notice that the most downloaded and highly-rated apps tend to have a limited set of features that they perform well. Check out the “Make Me Smart” Alexa skill by the folks at Marketplace. The single feature app helps to keep its users up-to-date on the latest technology and trends with short, daily briefings. The lesson? Focus on 1-2 key functions that will most help your user and do those well. Medullan CEO Albaiti explains: “Only by understanding and carefully isolating the most essential elements of the skill—will we create highly rated and widely adopted services”.

Consider Engagement. Much like a traditional, screen-based application, voice-first apps need to keep users engaged and interested. In the healthcare space, engagement is particularly important when using an app to drive behavior change in patients or providers. The voice interface can make this complicated because in most cases it cannot initiate communication with the user. Therefore, voice designers need to come up with creative ways to engage and solicit communication from the user despite this limited functionality. Consider using the notification light feature on voice assistant devices and other workarounds to prompt your user to interact with the application when usage is slipping. If creating a multimodal experience, then support the voice interface with engagement reminders on the other associate devices.


Product designers and developers in the healthcare space should pay special attention to voice technology. Voice-first applications have the potential to solve complex problems for patients and providers alike, making care more accessible and keeping patients more engaged in their health. If you are designing a voice-first app in healthcare, remember to start with your user, provide clear value to them, stay focused on 1-2 well-defined features, and find some creative ways to keep them engaged. Need a trusted partner? At Medullan, we pride ourselves on being digital health experts. Contact us to schedule an introductory meeting where we will discuss your most pressing digital health challenges and how we can help.

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