Amazon Alexa celebrates HIPAA-compliant data transfer with six new healthcare skills

Developed by providers, payers and other stakeholders, each of the new voice-based services is designed to conveniently bring health knowledge and management into the home.
By Dave Muoio
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Earlier this morning, Amazon announced in a blog post that its voice-based Alexa platform now supports the development of software that communicates HIPAA-protected health information through an invite-only Alexa Skills Kit program.

To kick off the new capability, the company also highlighted the launch of six new Alexa skills built by healthcare providers and other stakeholders. Each is designed to help members, patients and caretakers manage care at home with easy-to-use voice commands.

“From our view, [Alexa’s data protection] makes for great opportunity in healthcare, because what we’re trying to do is make it easier for patients to access information, easier for patients to track their health and easier for patients to interact with their healthcare system,” Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, which released one of the six new skills, told MobiHealthNews. “Voice represents a great leap forward — as much as it is challenging for someone to log into their patient portal, download and train them in a mobile app, out of the box Alexa works. … It just makes sense to use these tools that are hands free and utilize the main modality that we use to communicate, voice, to improve care.”

The six new Alexa skills are:

My Children’s Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS): Boston Children’s Hospital’s newest voice technology tool helps parents understand and follow pre- and post-surgery guidance, as well as to understand their child’s recovery progress and manage upcoming appointments. The skill is currently being implemented at the hospital for patients receiving cardiac surgeries, although Boston Children’s said that it is hoping to expand the skill to include additional patient groups “in the near future.”

Livongo Blood Sugar Lookup: A companion to the digital chronic disease management company’s Livongo for Diabetes program, the new skill allows users to quickly check the latest blood glucose reading taken by their device or their weekly average. According to the company, program members can also receive a selection of general health tips through their device.

Swedish Health Connect: A tool from the Providence Health system that allows users to find nearby Swedish Express Care Clinics and book same-day or next-day appointments at the organization’s urgent care locations.

Cigna Health Today: Designed for employees enrolled in a Cigna plan, the service helps users check in on their wellness program’s goals and access additional info on rewards and health tips.

Atrium Health: The health system’s skill allows patients in North Carolina and South Carolina find information about local care facilities — such as wait times, hours of operation, address and contact information — and book appointments.

Express Scripts: The pharmacy benefit management firm’s offering lets members track home deliveries of their prescriptions, with the option to receive a notification when an order arrives at their door.

WHY IT MATTERS

The arrival of HIPAA-compliant data transfers to one of the world’s most popular voice assistant platforms sets the stage for a number of new voice-first products. And while voice command-based tools have been pitched for stakeholders across the industry, these six initial skills highlight the impact this medium could have among consumers and patients.

“We’re taking advantage of technology people already have,” Brownstein said. “How do we take advantage of the rising tide of adoption of consumer tech, and bring healthcare value to it? [By] not trying to invent things that are healthcare specific, but leveraging what consumers are already utilizing and already know how to use, and bringing healthcare through those platforms.”

WHAT’S THE TREND

From consumer health advice to clinician tools, Amazon’s voice assistant has already seen a number of skills and services revolving around healthcare. Although the past year was chock full of pilots and early implementations, experts in the field have stressed that the technology is only just expanding beyond its “first wave” of reactive health information services to become a more and more proactive tool.

ON THE RECORD

"We believe voice technology, like Alexa, can make it easy for people stay on the right path by tracking the status of their mail order prescription, helping us further solve the costly and unhealthy problem of medication non-adherence,” Mark Bini, VP of innovation and member experience at Express Scripts, said in a statement.