Artificial-intelligence assistant meets privacy rules and the device an even more important role in the daily lives of patients.
Amazon recently 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.
The invite only program comes after a trial of Amazon’s smart speakers in patients rooms and it now allows developers to create and launch a HIPAA compliant set of healthcares skills for Alexa. These new skills will allow customers to ask the virtual assistant for help with things like checking on the status of a prescription delivery, booking an appointment, accessing hospital post-discharge instructions and many more.
Amazon says the program will only allow select subject to HIPAA to create these skills. Amazon itself provides the HIPAA-eligible environment for skill building, while the developers themselves are required to comply with the applicable laws.
Amazon has unveiled the first-ever HIPAA-compliant (the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) Alexa skills, letting covered entities and business associates use the voice assistant to take care of sensitive medical issues. Namely, Providence St. Joseph Health’s skill can book a same-day appointment, for example, while Cigna and Express Scripts have introduced skills that respectively track wellness incentives and manage prescriptions. Livongo, meanwhile, has a skill for diabetics that can provide blood glucose readings and health tips.
What does HIPPA compliance mean for Amazon’s Alexa?
Before a company acquires the HIPAA compliance, it’s limited in the types of data it can legally gather and transmit via smart speakers. So it could only help hospitalized patients with actions like changing the TV channel. But with a HIPAA-compliant Alexa, developers can now build skills that incorporate personal medical information to make the assistant a more useful clinical tool.
This is going to enable health firms and app developers to embed Alexa with several other complex healthcare features.
Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, which uses one the the new healthcare features, says that: “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”.
In order to prevent any nervousness that may come from a patient’s standpoint about trusting their medical information to a voice assistant, Amazon notes that it securely stores data with encryption and access controls.
The six Alexa features or “skills” used in medical care:
- 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 understanding the stages of recovery and managing the 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: The new skill allows diabetic patients 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: Was created for employees enrolled in a Cigna plan and is designed to help users with their wellness program goals and access further information on health and reward tips.
- Atrium Health: The health system’s skill allows patients in North Carolina and South Carolina to find information about local care facilities, such as wait times, hours of operation, address and contact information, and also book an appointment.
- 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.