Amazon's voice assistant can now manage people's sensitive health information, which represents an important step for the company into the $3.5 trillion health care sector.
As of Thursday, consumers will be able to use about half a dozen new Alexa health skills to ask questions such as "Alexa, pull up my blood glucose readings" or "Alexa, find me a doctor," and receive a prompt response from the voice assistant.
Amazon is able to add these skills because Amazon can now sign business associate agreements with health providers under HIPAA, which means third-party health developers who follow certain guidelines can meet the rules and requirements that govern how sensitive health information is transmitted and received. HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is designed to protect patients in cases where their personal health information is shared with a health care organization, like a hospital.
Voice technology has been heralded as a major breakthrough for the health field, particularly for seniors, kids and those with mobility problems. As a result, Amazon, and its rival Alphabet, have been increasingly focused on the needs of these populations, who view voice assistant devices as an important way to manage their medications, communicate with loved ones, and alert emergency services.
Amazon Alexa's health and wellness team has been working for months on HIPAA compliance, and its team includes Missy Krasner, who previously ran Box's health care efforts, and Rachel Jiang, who previously worked at Microsoft and Facebook. Jiang announced via the Alexa developer blog that six health partners have been selected for the invitation-only program, and it expects to grow that number in the coming months.
"These new skills are designed to help customers manage a variety of healthcare needs at home simply using voice – whether it's booking a medical appointment, accessing hospital post-discharge instructions, checking on the status of a prescription delivery, and more," Jiang wrote in the post.