Amazon’s New HIPAA-Compliant Alexa Skills Could Open Doors for Home-Based Care Agencies

Amazon’s Alexa now boasts HIPAA-compliant skills, a development that could create new opportunities for home-based care companies and the senior clients they serve.

Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) launched Alexa’s secure medical skill kit Thursday. Through the new kit, select entities are allowed to build Alexa skills that securely send and receive protected patient health information.

So far, the new capabilities allow patients from those select entities to do things like book medical appointments, reference their blood sugar readings, access post-discharge instructions and check on prescriptions.

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Currently, the program is invite-only, with six companies able to create skills and use the HIPPA-compliant software.

Pilot users include Express Scripts, a pharmacy that home-delivers prescriptions; Cigna (NYSE: CI), a global health insurer; My Children’s Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS), a program out of Boston Children’s Hospital; Providence St. Joseph Health, one of the nation’s largest health systems; and Livongo, a chronic disease management company.

However, the exclusive list is likely to expand in time, according to Amazon, potentially opening the door for home-based care providers to create and use HIPAA-compliant skills of their own.

“In the future, we expect to enable additional developers to access this capability to build health care skills, allowing more customers to access health care services more conveniently using voice,” Amazon said in a blog post announcing the new skills.

In recent years, home-based care providers have become increasingly interested in virtual assistants like Alexa, which is available on Amazon’s Echo devices and can perform functions such as playing music, dimming the lights or reporting the weather when prompted with spoken requests from users.

Agencies who have tested virtual assistants — such as Libertana Home Health and Bayada Home Health Care — have lauded their ability to cut down on loneliness and improve caregiver and patient efficiencies.

For example, when Libertana Home Health tested using an Alexa function to record patient data, the agency reported reduced redundancy for caregivers, allowing them to spend more quality time with clients.

Additionally, Bayada officials previously told HHCN a digital nursing assistant from Chicago-based health care technology firm PreparedHealth successfully helped caregivers identify 15-times more patients who required timely interventions.

The senior housing industry has also seen similar success with the device. In fact, in an effort to improve efficiencies and customer experience, Kisco Senior Living recently installed Amazon Echo Dot voice systems with Alexa in all 165 independent living units in its continuing care retirement community (CCRC) The Cardinal at North Hills in Raleigh, North Carolina.

With Alexa’s HIPAA-compliant capabilities, such opportunities can only be expected to expand, reducing hesitation from home-based care providers who might worry using such technology could make patient data more vulnerable.

It’s unclear when the new capabilities will be available to a wider audience.

Apart from Alexa, Amazon has long shone interest in health care in the home setting. In December, the Seattle-based company was rumored to be exploring at-home health testing services. Additionally, in July, Amazon was also reportedly working with a startup on a project related to hospital-to-home transitions.

In a 2018 survey, health care executives also identified Amazon as the biggest potential industry disruptor.

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