The HIPAA era for Amazon’s Alexa has arrived, opening new possibilities for how senior living providers and residents might utilize the voice technology.
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.
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 senior living providers and their tech partners 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, senior living 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.
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.
Glendale, California-based Front Porch saw an overwhelmingly positive response to an Alexa pilot that began in 2017, with residents saying the tech made their lives easier and that they frequently used it to control “smart home” features like thermostats and lights. Front Porch is now expanding Alexa across its portfolio.
And St. Louis-based Ascension Living also has successfully rolled out Alexa, starting with a particular focus on higher-acuity residents.
Indeed, smart home environments, often controlled via voice-activated assistants like Alexa, are becoming a “must” in senior living, Ginna Baik, strategic business development manager for senior care at CDW-Healthcare, said at last September’s Senior Housing News Summit in Los Angeles.
However, she noted that the lack of HIPAA compliance is one stumbling block to more widespread adoption within senior living.
Thursday’s announcement by Amazon is one step toward removing that obstacle. In the future, it’s possible that senior living residents might be able to rely on voice tech to not only tell them the weather but manage their health care data and services in a much more robust way.
When that future will materialize remains an open question. It’s unclear when the new HIPAA-compliant capabilities will be available to a wider base of app developers.
Additional reporting by Tim Mullaney