Does Alexa properly hear medication names? And with accents?

Amazon Alexa Research


Alexa recognizes 58% of brand medication names, but only 45% when spoken with a foreign accent. Alexa recognizes 46% of generic medication names, but only 38% when spoken with a foreign accent.

What did they do?

Researchers asked 46 people, 12 of them with a foreign accent, to say the brand- and generic names of the top 50 most dispensed medications in the United States. Then they looked at differences in Alexa’s accuracy to understand the medication name between people with different accents. Before doing this they tested the participants’ accuracy at pronouncing the medication names. They did this to confirm that Alexa was behaving properly and simply not responding to a mispronounced word.

What did they find?

Alexa only understood 55% of brand names and 46% of generic names. There was about an ~8–11% difference in comprehension rates between participants with Canadian accents to those with foreign accents.

So what

There is a lot of excitement around using Alexa solutions in health care. The results from this study suggest there’s a significant risk that Alexa will not properly understand the name of medications. This problems is even larger for people with foreign accents. Developers will need to be mindful of these weakness as they develop solutions using Alexa that could require users to name medication.

Article citation

Palanica, A., Thommandram, A., Lee, A., Li, M., & Fossat, Y. (2019). Do you understand the words that are comin outta my mouth? Voice assistant comprehension of medication names. NPJ digital medicine2(1), 1-6. Full article.