Amazon introduces Alexa in healthcare with HIPAA-compliant skills

Amazon launching HIPAA-compliant skills for Alexa in healthcare expands the realm of service that hospitals and other healthcare organizations can provide their customers at home.

Amazon now supports Alexa in healthcare, with new skills that share health information securely between patients and providers in compliance with the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA. Amazon claims six organizations are using Alexa in healthcare, each with a skill tailored to its specific services.

By offering HIPAA-compliant healthcare skills within the Alexa Skills Kit -- the feature used to develop Alexa-compatible apps -- Amazon enables healthcare companies to extend personalized help and services to patients' homes via voice activation. Patients can ask Alexa to do things such as book an appointment, check the delivery status of a prescription, access post-discharge instructions, find a doctor and more, according to Amazon.

Amazon describes the Alexa healthcare skills as an "invite-only" program for the selected six developers -- Express Scripts, Cigna, Boston Children's Hospital, Providence St. Joseph Health, Atrium Health and Livongo -- but offers an application for interested developers to receive updates on when they might be able to join Amazon's HIPAA-eligible environment in the future. Below are the skills launched by each developer, respectively, and what services each skill provides:

  • Express Scripts notifies members of prescription shipments and deliveries.
  • Cigna Health Today manages personal health goals.
  • MyChildren's Enhanced Recovery After Surgery allows parents and caregivers to update care teams on the recovery process, as well as receive post-op instructions.
  • Swedish Health Connect locates urgent care centers and schedules appointments.
  • Atrium Health locates urgent care centers and schedules appointments.
  • Livongo tracks blood sugar measurements and provides personalized health insights.

Alexa skills are voice-activated tasks that can be programmed into the cloud-based virtual assistant through third-party apps. There are over 70,000 existing Alexa skills, according to Voicebot. Commonly used skill categories include music, banking, food and fitness.

Because HIPAA regulates how patient information is used and collected, it has been difficult for virtual assistants like Alexa to infiltrate the medical and healthcare fields. In previous years, Amazon made small steps by developing basic Alexa skills for use in hospitals, such as assisting nurses with administrative tasks, running surgeons through preoperation checklists, taking photos during operations, and offering general advice to patients and parents.

Offering HIPAA compliance to the Alexa Skills Kit opens the door for hospitals, pharmacies and digital health companies to manage patient data remotely and expand their realm of customer service. Amazon claims that piloting Alexa in healthcare via the six skills is just the first step in increasing customer access to individualized healthcare. In the future, the vendor expects to grant new developers access to create additional HIPAA-compliant skills.

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