On April 4, 2019, Amazon announced “that the Alexa Skills Kit now enables select Covered Entities and their Business Associates, subject to the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), to build Alexa skills that transmit and receive protected health information as part of an invite-only program” (Jiang, 2019). This initial bundle of Alexa skills includes functionality from across the healthcare industry with a unified purpose, to improve convenience for healthcare customers and providers. Entities involved in this launch that provide a wide array of services, ranging from appointment booking to prescription status and care instructions, are:
- “Express Scripts (a leading Pharmacy Services Organization): Members can check the status of a home delivery prescription and can request Alexa notifications when their prescription orders are shipped.
- Cigna Health Today (by Cigna, the global health service company): Eligible employees with one of Cigna's large national accounts can now manage their health improvement goals and increase opportunities for earning personalized wellness incentives.
- My Children's Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) (by Boston Children's Hospital, a leading children's hospital): Parents and caregivers of children in the ERAS program at Boston Children's Hospital can provide their care teams updates on recovery progress and receive information regarding their post-op appointments.
- Swedish Health Connect (by Providence St. Joseph Health, a healthcare system with 51 hospitals across 7 states and 829 clinics): Customers can find an urgent care center near them and schedule a same-day appointment.
- Atrium Health (a healthcare system with more than 40 hospitals and 900 care locations throughout North and South Carolina and Georgia): Customers in North and South Carolina can find an urgent care location near them and schedule a same-day appointment.
- Livongo (a leading consumer digital health company that creates new and different experiences for people with chronic conditions): Members can query their last blood sugar reading, blood sugar measurement trends, and receive insights and Health Nudges that are personalized to them” (Jiang, 2019).
A move like this is just the beginning of the move to voice access in healthcare, which was easy to predict once voice-powered technologies became commonplace in the U.S. home environment. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), “50% of all searches will be conducted by voice, and smart speakers are expected to reach 55% of U.S. households by 2022” (Small et al, 2018).
Some of the early healthcare applications that have been identified, beyond the obvious one of dictation, include:
- Patient and caregiver education and instruction
- Queries from clinicians in time-sensitive situations, like ICUs or EDs
- Voice-prompted checklists for validating important clinical procedures
- Healthcare decision assistance at home to expand access to care (Small et al, 2018).
The HBR article cites a survey of physicians about voice in healthcare, which found that only 16% of the respondents “stated they would not try voice” (Small et al, 2018). The remainder were open to the technology or were unfamiliar with how it would apply to care.
In conclusion, the HBR article mentions concerns with privacy, the difficulty of clear voice communication in a noisy environment, and access to Wi-Fi, while adding that “supporting clinician and patient decision-making as one of its greatest potentials” (Small et al, 2018). No one in healthcare, from providers to patients, should be surprised when the capability to ask your home smart speaker about your health becomes something we take for granted.
Jiang, R. (2019). Introducing New Alexa Healthcare Skills. Amazon Alexa, April 4, 2019. Retrieved at https://developer.amazon.com/blogs/alexa/post/ff33dbc7-6cf5-4db8-b203-99144a251a21/introducing-new-alexa-healthcare-skills.
Small, C., Nigrin, D., Churchwell, K, and Brownstein, J, (2018). What Will Health Care Look Like Once Smart Speakers Are Everywhere?
, Harvard Business Review. March 7, 2018. Retrieved at https://hbr.org/2018/03/what-will-health-care-look-like-once-smart-speakers-are-everywhere