Alexa Skill That Helps Patients Access Medical Care Launched by Atrium Health
This month Atrium Health announced an Alexa skill that allows users to locate their closest emergency care department in addition to allowing users to reserve a spot at an urgent care location. Users can prompt the skill by saying “Alexa, open Atrium Health,” and Alexa will respond by guiding the user through the process of reserving a spot at one of the 31 Atrium Health urgent care locations, which are based in central North Carolina.
The Alexa skill initially became available early April and was released as a part of Amazon’s announcement that it had deployed an Alexa service compliant with the HIPAA Act. With the Atrium Health Alexa skill patients will also be able to find wait times, phone numbers, and urgent care hours. Rasu Shrestha, M.D., MBA, EVP, and chief strategy officer at Atrium Health says,
Our goal at Atrium Health is to provide our patients with the best care when and where they need it. Voice is an interactive technology that our patients are already using in many aspects of their lives. The use of this exciting technology is part of our commitment to Atrium Health to provide access to care in a way that is most convenient for them.
In order to use the skill, users must give Atrium Health permission to access address information that is stored in the Alexa app. Reserving a spot requires users to give permission for the skill to also access their full name and e-mail address.
Atrium Health is Able to Create this Skill Because of Amazon’s HIPAA Compliant Alexa Service
The concept of using Alexa to access emergency care information is not new, but until Amazon was able to launch their HIPAA compliant service, it was not possible to reserve spots. Earlier skills, like the Alexa skill launched by the Carolinas HealthCare system in 2017 are able to provide users with information on the nearest urgent care and hospital location as well as the approximate wait time for each one.
April 4th, 2019, Amazon announced in a blog post that it had deployed an Alexa service for healthcare providers compliant with the protections outlined in the U.S. Health Information Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, also known as the HIPAA Act. As a part of that announcement Amazon also announced the release of six new Alexa skills that employ the new HIPAA service, one of which was the Atrium Health Alexa skill.
In addition, Amazon announced it will release an Alexa Skills Kit for developing healthcare-related skills, however, it is not yet available generally. There is an option to register with Amazon to receive updates as the program expands, suggesting the HIPAA Alexa service may be limited for some time as it is currently invitation only.
This Use-Case is Relevant to Everyone
Having the ability to not only find urgent care locations near you but to reserve a spot at an urgent care location near you is a use-case that many consumers could find valuable. Requesting urgent care information and reserving a spot are hands-free actions with Alexa, allowing a user to focus on the emergency situation at hand rather than fumbling with their phone or another device.
In addition, Amazon is dominant in the smart speaker market share in the U.S., meaning the service is able to reach a wider audience. According to the Voicebot Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report from January 2019, Amazon holds 61.1% of the smart speaker market share, second is Google with 23.9%.
The HIPAA Alexa service is the first of its kind for voice assistants, and so Amazon is expecting to learn from the experience in order to determine how to make it more broadly available in the future. So while it may be easy to see the possible benefits from the creation of this skill now, it will most likely take some time before we see more skills like it published in the U.S.