Amazon Alexa is now HIPAA compliant. The company recently launched six Alexa voice health tools built by providers, payers, pharmacy benefit managers and digital health coaching companies that allow organizations to securely transmit private patient information. The Alexa Skills Kit enables select covered entities and business associates subject to HIPAA to build Alexa skills so they can transmit and receive protected health information as part of an invite-only program.
Consumers opting to use these tools from their providers or those who developed them will now get instant answers when they direct Alexa to do things like check their postoperative instructions, communicate their blood glucose numbers or find a doctor.
What It Means
Although having Alexa achieve HIPAA compliance was anticipated, clearing this hurdle should help Amazon make rapid progress as it pushes further into the $3.5 trillion health care sector. It’s also expected to lead to a much broader application of voice technologies within health care to improve care delivery, efficiency and the patient experience.
Also, some believe the move will encourage more providers to embed the technology deeper into clinical settings. When that might happen is difficult to predict, but Amazon has said it expects more companies beyond the six it originally invited to access its HIPAA-compliant skills kit to build voice programs.
Are Smart Patient Rooms Next?
Health care leaders’ interest in voice-assistant technology has been growing ever since Alexa launched. Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles earlier this year began a pilot program in which an Alexa-powered platform called Aiva was used in more than 100 patient rooms to interact hands-free with nurses and to control their TVs. Northwell Health patients can use Alexa to search across its network of emergency departments and urgent care locations to check current wait times.
Boston Children’s Hospital, which built one of the new Alexa skill sets, deploys the technology in its My Children’s Enhanced Recovery After Surgery program to provide more immediate patient communications with its care team. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer, told CNBC: “We’re in a renaissance of voice technology and voice assistants in health care. It’s so appealing as there’s very little training, it’s low cost and convenient.”
Even with these advantages, some patients may not be willing to have their health information shared through systems like Alexa — HIPAA compliant or not — given some of the security breaches that have occurred inside and outside health care.
6 Health Care Players Who Have Added Skills for Alexa
Here are the six health care skills that Alexa has launched:
- My Children's Enhanced Recovery After Surgery: Parents and caregivers of children in the ERAS program at Boston Children's Hospital can provide their care teams updates on recovery progress and receive information regarding their post-op appointments.
- Swedish Health Connect (by Providence St. Joseph Health): Patients can find a nearby urgent care center and schedule a same-day appointment.
- Atrium Health: Patients in North and South Carolina can find an urgent care facility near them and hear wait times.
- Express Scripts: Members can check the status of a home-delivery prescription and request Alexa notifications when their prescription orders are shipped.
- Cigna Health Today: Eligible employees with one of Cigna’s large national accounts can manage their health improvement goals and increase opportunities for earning personalized wellness incentives.
- Livongo (a consumer digital health company serving those with chronic conditions): Members can query their last blood sugar reading, blood sugar-measurement trends and receive insights and Health Nudges that are personalized.