In a move that’s high-profile even for the rapidly-emerging voice assistant niche, Amazon has announced that its developers can now offer HIPAA-compliant services for the Alexa platform. Well, at least a small subset of them can.
According to today’s announcement, the online retailing giant has kicked off an invite-only program allowing a group of HIPAA-regulated covered entities and business associates to build Alexa services (which Amazon calls “skills”).
The new program is kicking off with the following services:
- Express Scripts is offering the ability to check the status of home delivery prescriptions, as well as to get Alexa notifications when prescription orders are shipped out
- Employees with one of Cigna’s larger customers will be able to use Alexa to manage health improvement goals and gain added wellness incentives
- Boston Children’s Hospital is giving parents and caregivers of children in its Enhanced Recovery After Surgery program the ability to update care teams on childrens’ recovery progress as well as receive information on post-op appointments
- Patients who use the Swedish Health Connect service by Providence St. Joseph Health healthcare system will be able to use Alexa to find a nearby urgent care center and schedule a same-day appointment
- Patients with North and South Carolina locations within the Atrium Health healthcare system will be able to find urgent care locations nearby and schedule same-day appointments
- Consumers using Livongo, a digital health service designed for people with chronic conditions, will be able to query Alexa for their last blood sugar reading, blood sugar trends, insights and health reminders
To those of us already anchored in the healthcare world, this might not sound like much of a big deal, and to be sure, the initial services listed above aren’t likely to make a huge impact in and of themselves. They have potential, though.
For example, the post-surgical program launched by Boston Children’s Hospital sounds promising, as it provides a new and possibly more accessible way for parents and other caregivers to communicate with a child’s providers. (Boston Children’s had previously offered a skill known as KidsMD offering generalized wellness advice.) Also, given Amazon’s recent acquisition of e-pharmacy PillPack, Amazon could eventually benefit greatly from working with Express Scripts. After all, the easier it is to work with PillPack, the tighter the link it forms with consumers.
All told, this is an important step for Amazon, which I castigated less than a year ago for failing to demand that Alexa skills met even the retailer’s own standards for medical applications. If Amazon locks down the right partnerships and picks the right applications to develop, it could build Alexa into a must-use for many consumers.
Creating a unified health management portal for Alexa is probably the ultimate destination here. While it isn’t likely to come easily, as countless vendors hold little pieces of the overall health management puzzle, I believe it could be pulled together over time. And if Amazon can bring some sort of personal health management portal to Alexa, it could be a historic turning point for the entire platform.