Amazon adds HIPAA compliance to Alexa Skills, opening door for secure health apps

(GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant has a new trick: transmitting secure patient information between patients and caregivers. Developers can now use the Alexa Skills Kit to build HIPAA-compliant apps, opening the door for hospitals, insurers, digital health startups and others to manage patient data through voice.

Amazon announced the news in a blog post. New healthcare skills are now available from the following healthcare companies:

  • Providence St. Joseph Health: West Coast patients can schedule same-day appointments at urgent care clinics through the Swedish and Providence Health Connect skills on Alexa.
  • Livongo: Users can get access blood sugar readings and receive personalized insights.
  • Express Scripts: Users can ask Alexa about their prescription status and request notifications.
  • Cigna: Cigna Health today allows eligible employees to manage health improvement goals and earn wellness incentives.
  • Boston Children’s Hospital: The Enhanced Recovery After Surgery skill gives parents of young patients the ability to update caregivers on a patient’s progress following surgery and access appointment information.
  • Atrium Health: Users in North and South Carolina can locate urgent care clinics and schedule appointments.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) governs how health companies collect and use patient information. The challenge of working within this legal framework has been a major barrier to the development of digital health tools. By bringing HIPAA compliance to the Alexa Skills Kit, Amazon wants to remove those barriers for voice technologies.

“Voice is going to be a big part of the future in all areas of our lives, including health and health care. We’re excited to be one of the first health systems in the U.S. to build Alexa skills that help our patients connect to our providers and get faster access to care,” Aaron Martin, executive vice president and chief digital officer at Providence St. Joseph Health, said in a statement.

Amazon reportedly set out to build a health and wellness team last year, and bringing HIPAA compliance to Alexa was one of the stated goals, according to the CNBC report at the time.

With Echo and Alexa, Amazon got an early head start in voice, but other big tech companies are making in-roads as well. For example, Microsoft recently revealed a healthcare chatbot service that allows companies to build bots in a HIPAA-compliant environment.

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