Having attained the ability to sign business associate agreements with health providers under HIPAA, Amazon has added half a dozen new skills to Alexa, which will not only forward Amazon’s venture into the $3.5 trillion health care sector but also allow third-party health developers to following specific guidelines to actually meet the rules and regulations put in place for safe transmission of sensitive health-related information.
Rachel Jiang, a member of Amazon Alexa’s Health and Wellness Care team and former employee of Facebook and Microsoft, has commented on the latest Alexa skills saying,
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.
Voice technology is bringing about a fantastic transformation in the availability of health care, especially to seniors, kids, and people with mobility issues. Among the latest skills added is ‘ERAS’ from Boston Children’s Hospital, which will allow Alexa using patients and caregivers to use the voice assistant to ask specific questions about concerning cases from the care team, besides allowing the doctors to remotely check in on a child’s recovery process after having been discharged from the hospital. This new skill comes in addition to the pre-existing KidsMD skill that provides information on general wellness.
Another company selected to add a skill to Amazon’s Alexa as part of the latest program is Livongo. Livongo allows employers to help manage workers with chronic medical conditions. In the newest skill, it will now be able to make Alexa check patients’ blood sugar levels with the help of connected glucometers. A command like, “Alexa, ask Livongo what my blood glucose reading was from this morning” will help users get the desired responses. Since the skill comes under the purview of HIPAA, user privacy shall be ensured.
Livongo’s chief medical officer, Jenny Schneider, has told CNBC that she expects users to embrace voice technologies as opposed to SMS messaging and other platforms, for a number of reasons; claiming that “Some of those people might have difficulty reading, or they just have busy lives and it’s just an easy option.” Livongo has estimated an approximate 20,000 customers as already having an Alexa device in their home.
“Livongo’s goal is to leverage innovative technologies to create a world-class Member experience. We believe that voice technology will have an impactful role in helping our members better manage their chronic conditions, and health in general. Speaking and listening are natural communication channels, and voice-based capabilities also allow us to reach people who prefer other modes of communication. Our Members now have the ability to hear their last blood glucose check by simply asking Alexa. In providing seamless health insights while our Members are preparing meals or about to exercise, Livongo can more effectively drive positive behavior change,” Schneider added.
Pharmacy benefits manager, Express Scripts, and health insurer Cigna are also among the companies working on developing their own skills for Alexa, with Express Scripts claiming that it shall help Amazon delve deeper into the pharmacy industry, having recently acquired internet pharmacy company, PillPack, last year. While Express Script’s skill will allow users to check the status of their home delivery prescriptions, Cigna’s skill will help users “manage health improvement goals.” A skill from Providence St. Joseph Health will, for its part, will let users living in and around Seattle easily locate an urgent care center or schedule an appointment, and one from Atrium Health will do the same for users from North and South Carolina and Georgia.
We’re in a renaissance of voice technology and voice assistants in health care. It’s so appealing as there’s very little training, it’s low cost and convenient. – John Brownstein, chief innovation officer for Boston Children’s Hospital
One thing all the developers seem to unanimously agree on is the fact that the latest skills shall bring health to the home, making healthcare processes cheaper and more convenient for the patient; besides making provision of healthcare on the part of providers, including doctors and nurses, a more straightforward process. They shall now be able to continue giving care to and monitor patients even after they have left the hospital, thus reducing the chances of or need for readmissions.