This week Amazon announced a major milestone: a HIPAA compliant route for developing new Alexa skills for healthcare-related use cases. The program is currently invite only, so I have many questions about how it differs from the normal skill development and submittal process. I suspect there is a new, parallel, HIPAA-compliant environment behind the scenes.

Amazon launched the program with six skills that are honestly pretty basic. According to the announcement:

Alexa healthcare skills at launch
  • Cigna members can understand their benefits and health incentives
  • Express Script customers can track shipping status of their prescriptions
  • Boston Children's Hospital patients can report progress after surgery and schedule followup visits
  • Atrium and Swedish patients can find urgent care locations and schedule a same-day appointment
  • Livongo is allowing patients to recall past blood sugar measurements and receive "nudges" watch what they eat or to take their medication

After reading the announcement, one of my immediate questions was about the confidentiality of the voice transcriptions when interacting with these skills. One can imagine a user not wanting to have a record of, "Alexa, do I have herpes?" in their app. You can see how Amazon addressed this concern below, sacrificing some voice feedback along the way:

Image of Alexa screen in the app showing a HIPPA message to the user
How Alexa handles health related transcripts.

Why is this exciting?

First, we should be excited by this because Amazon definitively saying, "Your skill can be HIPPA-compliant" is big, bold step. Far too often cloud providers are wishy-washy about this and the fine print can leave users with more questions than answers. So I applaud Amazon's position here.

Second, I suspect we will see a rush of activity in this area from other assistants like Siri, Cortana, and Google. Apple already has a head start with their Health offering and numerous apps that integrate with it.

This is also exciting because Electronic Medical Record (EMR) integration is inevitable. While the skills that just launched are very basic, imagine the possibilities when you could query and interact with your personal EMR through an intelligent assistant that could understand your intent and simplify the medical jargon for you. AI could be the ultimate answer to good bedside manner.

I'm looking forward to seeing where the intersection of healthcare and voice technology go from here. Opening up Alexa skills to this industry will undoubtedly lead to some interesting innovations beyond what we see today.