- Amazon's smart speaker Alexa now allows for HIPAA-compliant healthcare uses, the online retail giant said Thursday. Through the Alexa Skills Kit, covered entities and business associates can build skills that transmit and receive protected health information through an invitation-only program.
- Six companies taking part in the program launched their skills Thursday, including Atrium Health, Cigna, Express Scripts, Providence St. Joseph Health, Boston Children's Hospital and Livongo.
- The new abilities include 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.
The announcement marks a major step forward in the potential for smart speaker technology to meet the growing patient demands for consumer and convenience. While healthcare companies have previously created Alexa skills (such as talking people through CPR procedures), the lack of compliance with the landmark privacy rule was a significant roadblock to making tools patients could find useful.
Amazon said it expects to invite more developers to build HIPAA-compliant skills, but the first rollout features an impressive lineup of notable payers, providers and digital health companies. The clear industry buy-in speaks to an understanding that patients are frustrated with the often archaic nature of managing health records.
It also reflects a push from the federal government to give people more control over their data. HHS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT are in fact making this a requirement as part of two rules first announced in February. CMS Administrator Seema Verma said at the time the proposed regulations are a "step toward a healthcare future where patients are able to obtain and share their health data, securely and privately, with just a few clicks, is just the beginning of a digital data revolution that truly empowers American patients."
The feature from Boston Children's Hospital will allow patients and caregivers to "share recovery progress with their care team post-surgery," the hospital's Chief Innovation Officer John Brownstein said 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.
Alexa is certainly not Amazon's only foray into the healthcare space. The company bought online pharmacy PillPack in June 2018 and has since gotten licenses from several state pharmacy boards, suggesting a potential national rollout to deliver prescription drugs.
Amazon is also a founding partner of the venture now called Haven, which aims to lower healthcare costs for employees of the online giant and other founders J.P. Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway. Haven is helmed by Harvard medical professor and author Atul Gawande, and has made numerous other recent hires — including former Partners Healthcare executive Sandhya Rao as vice president of clinical strategy.