Amazon is building a 'health & wellness’ team within Alexa as it aims to upend health care

Key Points
  • Amazon has built a team within Alexa to dive more deeply into the health-care space.
  • Members include Missy Krasner, a former Box health executive, and veteran engineer Larry Ockene.
  • The group wants to eventually provide services to new mothers and people with diabetes and to ensure proper regulatory and data privacy requirements.
An attendee operates the new Amazon Echo device.
Daniel Berman | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The nucleus of Amazon's effort to upend the health-care market may very well be the Echo device in your living room.

According to an internal document obtained by CNBC, Amazon has built a team within its Alexa voice-assistant division called "health & wellness," which includes over a dozen people and is being led by Rachel Jiang, who has spent the last 5 years at Amazon in various roles including advertising and video.

The team's main job is to make Amazon's Alexa voice assistant more useful in the health-care field, an effort that requires working through regulations and data privacy requirements laid out by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), according to people familiar with the matter. The group is targeting areas like diabetes management, care for mothers and infants and aging, said the people, who asked not to be named because the work is confidential.

Taking on digital health

Other key members include Missy Krasner, who joined Amazon last year after leading industry initiatives at Box and Google, and Larry Ockene, a 10-year veteran engineer at Amazon. Yvonne Chou, who has worked at Amazon for eight years across Prime, fashion and retail, is one of the three managers under Jiang.

Within the Alexa unit, the team falls under a group called Alexa Domains, according to the internal document.

An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.

Amazon, Berkshire, and JP Morgan to partner on health care
Amazon, Berkshire, and JP Morgan to partner on health care

Krasner moved to Alexa in recent months from a stealthy group led by Babak Parviz that operates under the various monikers AmazonX, Grand Challenges and 1492. Krasner, who played an instrumental role in obtaining HIPAA compliance at Box, is leading business development and strategy, the people said.

While Amazon isn't talking publicly about the health and wellness group, its existence is the clearest indication of the company's plan to bring Alexa voice technology to the rapidly growing field of digital health. Having the right compliance and regulatory licenses in place would allow Alexa-powered devices and apps to share and upload sensitive health data with medical professionals and patients. It would also enable integrations with third-party apps.

In the summer of 2017, the company worked with drugmaker Merck to offer a prize to developers building Alexa "skills" to help people with diabetes manage all aspects of their care. In recent months, Amazon has been looking more closely at how to help new mothers, a group that already relies heavily on Amazon for diapers and other supplies.

Amazon has numerous other projects underway that are focused on taking a slice of the multitrillion-dollar health-care industry.

Amazon Web Services, the cloud-computing division, has a team dedicated to serving health and pharmaceutical companies. On the e-commerce side, the marketplace group is reportedly looking at multiple ways to get into drug distribution.

The company's most public pronouncement came earlier this year when it formed a joint initiative with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan aimed at improving health-care services. And there's the mysterious Grand Challenge team, which people familiar with the project say is interested in both hardware, diagnostics and the aging population.

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