Google Assistant is a better virtual pharmacist than Siri

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I sent the HomePod back, so I will keep using the single photo I took until somebody stops me.
Would you ask Siri about your medication?
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

If you have a query about your prescription drugs, you’re better off asking Google Assistant than Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. That’s the conclusion of a new piece of research, published in the journal Nature Digital Medicine.

While you’re best off asking a human doctor, of course, the research was intended to see how accurate Google, Amazon and Apple’s AI assistants are at explaining the 50 most commonly prescribed medicines.

It was carried out by researchers Yan Fossat and Adam Palanica from lab company Klick Health. They played the Google Home, Amazon Echo and HomePod audio clips of 45 English-speaking people asking about medication. They used the prompt “tell me about,” followed by the name of the medicine.

It may seem a bit unnecessary to judge a voice assistant by how accurate its medical descriptions are. However, given that the category of device is intended to become an alternative to regular text-based search, it makes sense that manufacturers would want information as accurate as possible.

“We reviewed all the literature, and identified this one area of medication comprehension that is under studied,” Fossat told CNBC. “It’s especially important to research these voice assistant tools, given the growing demand for them in health care.”

How did they measure up?

The researchers found that Google Assistant was able to understood 92% of brand name medicines, and 84% of generics. Siri, meanwhile, understood 58% of brand names and 51% of generics. Alexa came in last place with 55% of brand names and 46% of generics. Comprehension fell for Siri and Alexa when people with different accents asked, but remained high for Google.

Expecting your HomePod to be a good stand-in for your pharmacist is, of course, a mistake. But this is information that Apple could act on and improve. Apple has embraced mobile health and wellness with its latest generation of Apple Watch. Tim Cook has also talked about Apple’s contribution to health being a lasting legacy for the company. This is one area where Apple could work to up its game.