Amazon’s Alexa Now HIPAA-Compliant

April 18, 2019 | Eric D. Fader | Cybersecurity | Electronic Health Records | HIPAA | Home Health | Hospitals | Medical Devices and Wearables | Private Insurers | Telehealth

Amazon announced in a blog post on April 4 that its Alexa voice assistant’s operating environment now complies with HIPAA. Companies that build functions, or skills, for Alexa will now be able to create skills that involve the transmission of users’ protected health information.

The initial group of six participants in an invitation-only program includes several hospitals and health systems; Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit manager;  a program run by the health insurer Cigna; and a digital health company that markets services to consumers with chronic conditions. Users can now rely on Alexa to keep track of prescriptions, schedule urgent-care appointments, and provide insurance benefit information, among other things, and Amazon intends to allow additional developers to participate in the program and develop new Alexa skills.

Although to date, many have considered voice command devices a mere novelty or simply a convenient alternative to a computer keyboard or smartphone, their potential uses for chronic care management of convalescing, handicapped and/or elderly patients are apparent. For starters, Alexa, Google Assistant, and similar multi-function smart devices are likely eventually to capture much of the large consumer market for medical alert systems that call for help when a user has “fallen and can’t get up.” It remains to be seen, however, whether some people, particularly the elderly who comprise a large percentage of Alexa’s new target market, will be squeamish about entrusting their health information to a device or system that may be seen as having potential privacy and security holes.

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