Amazon.com is aiming to enable Alexa, its voice-activated digital assistant, to keep tabs on customers’ medicine and provide personal health updates.
As part of an effort to expand into healthcare, Amazon took the first step last week announcing Alexa is HIPAA-compliant and that five healthcare companies including Cigna, Livongo Health and hospital partners have created new Alexa skills, enabling Alexa to make appointments at urgent care facilities, track prescription drug shipments and provide doctors with information once a patient is released from the hospital. Its also inviting select developers to make skills for Alexa that meet the government requirement on handling patient data.
Under HIPAA, otherwise known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, health care companies and those handling patient data have to ensure it is stored confidentially and ensure it can be accessed if necessary. Failure to comply with the rules could result in the company getting hit with fines and potentially slapped with criminal charges.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the new skills focused on healthcare will not only expand Alexa’s abilities, but will also help to compete better against Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. The paper reported market share for Alexa declined 40 percent in 2018. Prior to that it had 59 percent market share, noted The Wall Street Journal, citing data from Loup Ventures.
While Alexa skills haven’t taken off with the masses yet, the healthcare industry is hopeful it will given younger adults are more comfortable with technology. “Everybody feels like it is going to be really game-changing,” Emily Kagan, vice president of digital innovation strategy at Northwell, the New York Hospital system, told The Wall Street Journal. “We’re all still experimenting.” That’s not to say there isn’t some skepticism about how patient data will be protected on voice-activated speakers. Alexa last year got in trouble for recording private conversations by accident and sending it to another user. The device thought it was picking up commands. For the Alexa HIPPA skills, the paper noted Amazon recommends Alexa verify the speaker with a voice code or have the user log in with a password from an existing healthcare account.