- Amazon's Alexa has added new capabilities through a partnership with drug and medical device database company First Databank, allowing the smart speaker to answer simple questions about drugs and their side effects, the companies announced Tuesday.
- For example, Alexa users can ask about the uses of aspirin, whether Advil is safe for pregnant women, or if the antidepressant Zoloft interacts with pain medication.
- The voice-activated consumer device became HIPAA-compliant last year as the Seattle-based tech giant seeks to elbow its way into the healthcare industry.
Alexa became HIPAA-compliant in April, a important step in Amazon's foray into the healthcare market, especially since rivals Google Home and Apple's voice assistant Siri are not yet HIPAA-compliant. Alexa boasts 70% of the U.S. home voice assistant market, according to market research firms.
Since then, the cloud-based home assistant has expanded its healthcare-related skills in partnership with payers and providers to a total of seven. For example, one skill from Livongo lets members query Alexa for their last blood sugar reading; another with Cigna allows eligible employees to earn wellness incentives for managing health goals; and one from Boston Children's Hospital updates care teams on patient recovery.
In November, Amazon announced Alexa's most recent skill, rolling out personalized medication reminders in partnership with pharmacy chain Giant Eagle, which has a network spanning several states, and medication management company Omnicell.
The $87 billion tech company's latest healthcare partner, San Francisco-based First Databank, has built its database of drug information over four decades. Alexa-enabled devices will only have access to a subset of clinical drug information chosen specifically for the program by company clinicians.
Amazon uses "hundreds of data sources to inform Alexa's knowledge," a company spokesperson told Healthcare Dive. "This is simply another data source we are using to provide customers with fact-based information."
Consumers can ask about drug interactions, side effects, precautions and its class in both English and Spanish.
Alexa users can review and delete their voice records, along with several other privacy controls, the e-commerce giant says. But Amazon has taken some heat from privacy advocates for its Alexa devices accidentally recording and sharing private conversations and employing human contractors to analyze some recordings — concerns that magnify when sensitive medical information is included in the conversation.
Tech behemoths like Google, Apple and Microsoft are competing to disrupt the lucrative intersection between healthcare and technology. One popular tactic is forging partnerships with health IT companies, payers and providers to get a leg up in the consumer-driven healthcare market.
Amazon has taken this one step further, snapping up online pharmacy PillPack for $753 million in June and linking with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire-Hathaway to form Haven, a cost-lowering venture that has started offering non-traditional insurance plans. The company offers telehealth services for Seattle-area employees and cloud unit AWS peddles seven HIPAA-eligible AI and machine learning services, including medical speech-to-text transcription, as well.