On April 4, 2019, Amazon announced “that the Alexa Skills Kit now enables select Covered Entities and their Business Associates, subject to the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), to build Alexa skills that transmit and receive protected health information as part of an invite-only program” (Jiang, 2019). This initial bundle of Alexa skills includes functionality from across the healthcare industry with a unified purpose, to improve convenience for healthcare customers and providers. Entities involved in this launch that provide a wide array of services, ranging from appointment booking to prescription status and care instructions, are:
A move like this is just the beginning of the move to voice access in healthcare, which was easy to predict once voice-powered technologies became commonplace in the U.S. home environment. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), “50% of all searches will be conducted by voice, and smart speakers are expected to reach 55% of U.S. households by 2022” (Small et al, 2018).
Some of the early healthcare applications that have been identified, beyond the obvious one of dictation, include:
The HBR article cites a survey of physicians about voice in healthcare, which found that only 16% of the respondents “stated they would not try voice” (Small et al, 2018). The remainder were open to the technology or were unfamiliar with how it would apply to care.
In conclusion, the HBR article mentions concerns with privacy, the difficulty of clear voice communication in a noisy environment, and access to Wi-Fi, while adding that “supporting clinician and patient decision-making as one of its greatest potentials” (Small et al, 2018). No one in healthcare, from providers to patients, should be surprised when the capability to ask your home smart speaker about your health becomes something we take for granted.
Jiang, R. (2019). Introducing New Alexa Healthcare Skills. Amazon Alexa, April 4, 2019. Retrieved at https://developer.amazon.com/blogs/alexa/post/ff33dbc7-6cf5-4db8-b203-99144a251a21/introducing-new-alexa-healthcare-skills.
Small, C., Nigrin, D., Churchwell, K, and Brownstein, J, (2018). What Will Health Care Look Like Once Smart Speakers Are Everywhere?, Harvard Business Review. March 7, 2018. Retrieved at https://hbr.org/2018/03/what-will-health-care-look-like-once-smart-speakers-are-everywhere.
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