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How Siri could change the 911 emergency system

Right now, the 911 emergency call system is designed to accept one thing -- phone calls. However, the US is on the verge of moving to Next Generation 911, which is a dramatic upgrade to the system that allows communications to be made via voice, video, and text. GigaOM's John Wilson postulates in a recent post that Apple's Siri could revolutionize emergency calls and home health care.

In his post, Wilson describes an all too common scenario -- an elderly woman having a cardiac event who is able to dial 911, but can't speak more than a few words. As a result, she can't let the responders know what's wrong or tell them anything about existing medical conditions or medications. With Siri, he believes that a key phrase could set off a video call to emergency personnel who could use their own eyes and ears to get a better picture of what's going on.

As part of Next Generation 911, GPS location information is sent with the call, so responders are able to discern the exact location of a caller even when they can't tell the emergency center where they are. Wilson has the key phrase launching an app, sending either focused information or a patient's entire medical history to the responders. Finally, a Siri-based emergency calling system could even notify next of kin as to what is happening and what hospital the caller is being taken to.

Wilson then focuses on home health care, noting that Siri's natural language capabilities could make life better for millions of elderly or homebound. As he notes, there are many specialty devices for this market right now, but they're all expensive and relatively difficult to use. Wilson sees Siri being used to set and vocalize reminders of when to take medications, initiate video checkups with care providers or family members, and "begin a smooth chain reaction of events that would otherwise require far more time and energy to do - two things our elderly, chronically ill population have the least of."

This won't happen overnight, of course, but as Wilson notes, "Clearly it won't just be Siri alone in this revolution of health care. Many more services will be created, and many more similar innovations are on the horizon. But every revolution needs its leader, and Siri is undoubtedly it."

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