Alexa can now schedule doctors visits and check on your prescription shipment.
On Thursday, Amazon said that its voice assistant had added healthcare skills. Amazon’s working with organizations like West Coast-based health system Providence St. Joseph Health and pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts to start.
The new skills are compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, the regulation in place to protect the privacy of patients’ health information.
To start, the healthcare skills include:
- Prescription-tracking information, via Express Scripts.
- Some Cigna members can use Alexa to track their health and wellness goals.
- Boston Children’s Hospital is using Alexa to help parents and caregivers give updates to doctors on how their children are recovering after surgery.
- Providence is using it to help patients find nearby urgent care centers and schedule appointments, as is Atrium Health, a health system in North Carolina and South Carolina.
- Digital health company Livongo is using it to link up with the company’s device that tracks blood sugar levels. For instance, users can ask Alexa what their last blood sugar readings were.
“These skills are just the first step in making it easier for customers to manage their healthcare needs using just their voice – we’re excited to see what developers build next,” Amazon said in a blog post Thursday.
‘Alexa, book a doctor’s appointment’
Aaron Martin, Providence’s chief digital officer, told Business Insider the health system — which operates 51 hospitals and made $24 billion in revenue in 2018 — has been working with the Alexa team for months on skills after the voice assistant became HIPAA compliant.
The first place the Providence team decided to start was with setting up appointments for urgent care visits. Martin said the decision to start there was driven by the high use of urgent care among consumers for relatively simple conditions like a cough or an infection.
Users can say “Alexa, open Providence Health Connect” (or Swedish Connect, for those in the Seattle area) and then navigate to find nearby urgent care locations, book appointments, or set up an account. Those under the Swedish brand have access to the skill starting Thursday, while later this month the skill will be available to Providence users in the rest of Washington state and Oregon. Beyond urgent care, Martin and his team are thinking of other ways to put the hands-free technology to use.
“We think voice is another big big opportunity over time,” Martin said.
The voice assistant could help perform some of the tasks doctors now do themselves, curbing the spread of infections around the hospital. For instance, the health system could use it as a hands-free way to look up information about a certain condition while a patient is in the doctor’s office.
“You’re going to see in healthcare this sort of tech will be pervasive over time,” Martin said.
Amazon’s healthcare ambitions
The move to expand Alexa’s skills comes at a time when Amazon is getting deeper into healthcare. In June 2018, Amazon bought online pharmacy startup PillPack for about $750 million which sent shockwaves through the industry.
Amazon’s also teamed up with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway on a joint healthcare venture geared at improving healthcare for the companies’ employees. The new venture is called Haven and is led by Dr. Atul Gawande.
Analysts have long thought that Alexa would be a good way for Amazon to expand its reach into healthcare.
“We think a natural fit for Amazon could be incorporating its Alexa voice assistant for some health care needs,” analysts at Cowen wrote in a January 2018 note.