Amazon: HIPAA-Compliant Alexa Skills ‘Just the First Step’ in Disrupting Health Care

Earlier this year, Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) made waves when it rolled out new software that makes its Alexa device HIPAA-compliant.

The new skills kit allows select patients and health care organizations to securely transmit sensitive medical information — often from the comfort of one’s own home. While the implications of the skills have the home-based care industry buzzing, it’s only the beginning of what voice technology can do for the sector, experts say.

“We’re still in the infancy of this technology — where there are nuances in how you say things and there’s sort of non-intuitive grammar in terms of how you have to articulate your request to Alexa,” Greg Raiz, chief innovation officer at Rightpoint, told Home Health Care News. “But it’s definitely the Wild West, where these exciting new technologies are being built.”

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Rightpoint is a company that delivers medical-grade software to health care organizations across the U.S.

If voice technology is the Wild West, Rightpoint is one of the first settlers on the new frontier.

The Chicago-based company helped develop the framework for a HIPAA-compliant Alexa skill rolled out by Atrium Health, one of the six companies chosen to pioneer the new secure software.

Atrium Health is a North Carolina-based hospital network that offers a wide variety of medical services, including home health care. Its HIPAA-compliant Alexa skill allows customers to locate and schedule same-day appointments at nearby urgent care facilities by simply vocalizing the request to Alexa from the comfort of their homes.

“If they can eliminate phone calls — where someone has to call and wait on hold to get an answer — and get them an answer more quickly and seamlessly, that’s actually better for Atrium and better for the patient,” Raiz said.

Other pilot users of Amazon’s new HIPAA program 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 that CMS recently approved as an enrolled provider for Medicare Advantage.

Eventually, Amazon plans to make the HIPAA-compliant software available to a wider audience, opening the door for home- and community-based care organizations to develop skills of their own down the line.

“These skills are just the first step in making it easier for customers to manage their health care needs using just their voice – we’re excited to see what developers build next,” Amazon told HHCN in an email. “We are excited to take this first step toward empowering health care developers to build new, innovative voice experiences for customers.”

Amazon did not specify when its HIPAA-compliant software will be rolled out on a larger scale.

The Future of Voice Tech

While voice technology is currently being used in homes to help patients do things like access their blood sugar readings, make appointments and check on their prescriptions, developers are in the midst of creating an even more impressive skill set.

For example, in the future, voice technology may allow a smart speaker to detect a troublesome patient cough, connect the person to a doctor and dispatch cough medicine to the patient’s home within hours, Raiz said.

To make it a reality, voice technology, artificial intelligence and e-commerce will have to work together.

“The future of medicine is really integrated,” he said. “We’re exploring a number of scenarios that involve kind of a seamless connection between diagnosis via telemedicine, artificial intelligence, e-commerce and order fulfillment, which obviously Amazon is very good at.”

While Raiz couldn’t get into specifics, he says Rightpoint is working with companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft on a number of projects.

“Companies in general are trying to figure out what things voice is good at,” he said. “In the early days of the app store, we were working with our clients in a very similar way, exploring and building apps early on to see what it is that mobile applications are very good at. I think we’re in a similar stage with voice applications where there’s a lot of experimentation going on.”

Overall, the rise of development and investment in voice technology signifies the further move of health care into the home and towards value-based care, Raiz said.

“[This all] ties into this notion of the hospital that has no walls,” he said. “People can get a much better patient experience in the home, and as the technology gets better and better, that friction gets smaller and smaller.”

Amazon Q1

Amazon’s sales increased 17% to $59.7 billion in the first quarter of 2019, according to recent SEC filings, which also listed Amazon’s role out of HIPAA-compliant capabilities as a Q1 highlight.

While executives failed to mention the new skills during their latest earnings call, Dave Fildes, Amazon’s director of investor relations, said he’s “excited about the potential” of PillPack, the pharmacy business Amazon acquired last year.

Pillpack delivers medication right to patients’ doors, positioning Amazon to take a bigger slice of the at-home drug delivery market in the future.

“We’re probably around six months or so in since that acquisition closed, and [we’re] continuing to support them in their mission and learn from them,” Fildes said. “So no real update on that.”

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