Hey Alexa, Why Isn’t My Pharmacy Using Natural Language Processing?

by Duane Smith, Director of Product Management, Patient Communications

 Hey Alexa, turn on the lights.”

Ten years ago, this simple and increasingly common request was the stuff of science fiction.

Today, smart devices can not only turn on the lights but respond to requests to check the weather, change the temperature, add an event to your calendar, pause the TV, play music and more! Welcome to the world of natural language processing (NLP) – the technology used to understand, process and generate responses based on natural language requests.

What exactly is natural language processing?

Language is complex and diverse. In addition to hundreds of languages and dialects, each language has unique terms, slang, grammar and syntax rules. When we write, we sometimes misspell or abbreviate words, or leave out punctuation. When we speak, we have regional accents, mumble and borrow words from other languages. Natural language processing makes sense of it all, interpreting spoken words to perform an action or provide an answer in just seconds.

Powered by artificial intelligence, natural language processing is also capable of understanding your preferences and making personalized recommendations (think Netflix and Spotify). For example, you can say Hey Siri, I like this song,” and Siri will leverage artificial intelligence to play that song and others like it the next time you listen to music.

Evolving Consumer Expectations

The definition of convenience continues to evolve. Just a few years ago, the ability to type “what is the capital of Vermont” into your phone and get an answer seemed like the ultimate experience in convenience and efficiency. Today, consumers want to save a few seconds whenever possible and avoid any unnecessary steps in a process.

Through the rapid adoption of devices such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple Siri, consumers expect natural language access to services and more intuitive digital experiences. People are comfortable posing specific and conversational requests via their smart phones, smart watches, voice assistants and in their cars. And they expect to receive quick, personalized responses.

NLP and Your Pharmacy

Your pharmacy customers are rapidly adopting voice assistant technologies and leveraging natural language processing in their day-to-day lives. And soon, your consumers will come to expect this conversational, interactive approach from your pharmacy that they already experience in other areas of their life.

Today, most pharmacies have an IVR which takes callers through a linear, touch-tone menu. Callers must follow the pre-defined menu structure and listen to each portion of the menu before selecting an option.

Natural language processing would allow your patients to interact with your pharmacy through a more intuitive process and complete these tasks more quickly. Here are a few examples:


“I’d like to order three prescriptions and have them delivered tomorrow.”

“Hey, can I get a script ordered for delivery on Wednesday?”

“How late are you open on Saturday?” 

“What time do you close tomorrow?


Natural language processing understands the nuances of human language – “prescriptions vs. “scripts” and “tomorrow” vs. “Wednesday” – and delivers a personalized response based on the specific question. So instead of having to listen to the full pharmacy hours for each day of the week when the consumer only wants to know what time they can show up in the morning, natural language processing would simply respond “the pharmacy opens at 9 a.m. tomorrow”.

Prepare Your Pharmacy

Natural language processing is an ideal solution for pharmacies. The technology gives patients the ability to order prescription refills, hear details about their prescriptions, request their preferred method of delivery and perform other tasks more quickly and easily than ever before. Imagine a patient taking their last pill and a few seconds later having the ability to say, ‘Hey Google, I want to order a refill for prescription number 123456’.

Having a plan to adopt technologies that leverage natural language processing is crucial to meet evolving consumer expectations. Now is the time to think about how to complement your patient experience outside the four walls of your pharmacy with interactive voice capabilities. Those who innovate and invest in a next-generation voice strategy will deliver a differentiated experience for patients, leading to growth and higher revenue.


Duane Smith, Director of Product Management, Patient Communications 

In his role as director of product management for OmniSYS’s patient communications solutions, Duane is responsible for developing, designing and building innovative solutions that improve patient engagement for pharmacies. With nearly 30 years of experience designing pharmacy technology solutions, Duane’s combination of pharmacy, business and technical expertise provides valuable insight and drives results-oriented solutions for our customers.

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