Amazon recently released new software that makes its Alexa voice assistant compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, more commonly known by it’s acronym, HIPAA, opening the door for the tech giant to strengthen its foothold in healthcare. This move opens the door to a broad array of uses for Alexa in homes and hospitals, allowing patients to receive updates from care teams, schedule a same-day appointment, find an urgent care center, check the status of a prescription, and hear their latest blood sugar reading to name a few.
The announcement marks a big step forward in the potential for smart speaker technology to meet the growing patient demands for consumer and convenience in the era of digital transformation. While healthcare companies have previously created Alexa skills, the lack of compliance with the landmark privacy rule was a significant roadblock to making tools patients could find useful.
“Every day developers are inventing with voice to build helpful and convenient experiences for their customers,” Amazon wrote in a blog post announcing the news. “These new skills are designed to help customers manage a variety of healthcare needs at home simply using voice.”
Now that consumers will be able to use new Alexa health skills to ask questions such as “Alexa, pull up my blood glucose readings” or “Alexa, find me a doctor,” third-party health developers who follow certain guidelines can sign business associate agreements with Amazon under HIPAA, opening the door for further collaboration between healthcare providers and the online giant.
Voice technology like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri has been continually hailed as a major breakthrough for healthcare, particularly for seniors, kids and those with mobility problems. As a result, Amazon, have been increasingly focused on the needs of these populations, who view voice assistant devices as an important way to manage their medications, communicate with loved ones, and alert emergency services.
Demonstrating how the digital data revolution is empowering patients, the feature from Boston Children’s Hospital will allow patients and caregivers to “share recovery progress with their care team post-surgery,”said the hospital’s Chief Innovation Officer John Brownstein in a statement provided by Amazon.
“We believe it is just one example of how voice technology can extend the care and support of our patients beyond the four walls of the hospital,” he said.
With more than 100 million Alexa-powered devices sold to date, Amazon’s move could become a big splash as more and more consumer-focused tech companies rush to meet HIPAA privacy standards for transmitting protected health information.
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