Amazon Alexa Has a Health and Wellness Team to Create Healthcare Solutions
CNBC is reporting that Amazon has established a health and wellness team inside of the Alexa organization “to dive more deeply into the health-care space…The group wants to eventually provide services to new mothers and people with diabetes and to ensure proper regulatory and data privacy requirements.”
Amazon has big ambitions for Alexa, but healthcare presents specific challenges related to HIPAA compliance for the protection of patient data. The current structure of Alexa’s architecture doesn’t align with HIPAA restrictions, particularly in terms of access of personal health information (PHI). A key challenge is that Alexa may not only transmit PHI to a user, but might also collect data through speech-to-text. The question then is whom within Amazon has access to that data and can HIPAA requirements be met and audited for compliance. This is a core task of the new Alexa health and wellness team according the CNBC article.
“The team’s main job is to make Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant more useful in the health-care field, an effort that requires working through regulations and data privacy requirements laid out by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), according to people familiar with the matter.”
Voice and Healthcare Are Getting Attention
Amazon certainly is not alone in targeting healthcare use cases. Voice assistants that pre-dated Alexa in the enterprise from IPSoft and Nuance are already looking to extend their presence. IPSoft’s Amelia Health Agent is designed to streamline processes and surface efficiency opportunities using AI. Nuance’s Dragon Health Virtual Assistant is focused on facilitating clinical workflows. Nuance also stresses the features of Dragon Health to recognize medical terminology that may not currently be a strength for Alexa but would need to be added regardless of whether the focus is patients or medical personnel. Then there is Suki, a virtual assistant for medical professionals to transcribe speech that can be automatically added to medical records and replace the manual process of handwritten notes and keyboard entry into enterprise systems.
The focus on the enterprise makes sense as data in Europe and elsewhere show physician interest in in using voice assistants in patient care is popular. However, while these companies are tackling the enterprise side of healthcare, Alexa is primarily a consumer device. This means there is likely an opening for Amazon given its tens of millions of Echo devices in household living spaces. Startup Orbita Health is one of the companies that is actively working on the patient side of using voice in healthcare. The company supports a variety of devices and has focused on addressing a set of specific use cases for medical professionals, researchers and insurance providers in connecting directly with consumers. The company stresses its HIPAA compliance assurance as a differentiator.
It is not surprising that Amazon would want to target healthcare. There is talk of an Amazon Prime Healthcare solution based on the company’s collaboration with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway. And, Amazon right now has a clear strategy to own voice interaction in the home and healthcare is a common topic in our personal living spaces.