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Amazon released new software that makes its Alexa voice assistant compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), opening the door for the tech giant to strengthen its foothold in healthcare.
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For now, the software required to build HIPAA-compliant Alexa skills is accessible via invite only, though Amazon plans to make the software more broadly available. This announcement has been in the works for some time: Amazon carved out a health team within its Alexa division at least a year ago, and was reportedly seeking to hire a HIPAA expert.
Here’s what it means: HIPAA compliance enables health firms and app developers to embed Alexa with more complex and sensitive healthcare actions.
While Alexa already landed in some major hospitals, privacy regulations relegated its use to mostly nonclinical use cases, like helping hospitalized patients change the TV channel. Without HIPAA compliance, companies are limited in the types of data they can legally gather and transmit via smart speakers. But with a HIPAA-compliant Alexa, developers can now build skills that incorporate personal medical information to make the assistant a more useful clinical tool.
The bigger picture: A HIPAA-compliant Alexa lays the groundwork for Amazon to expand its enterprise and consumer-facing healthcare play.
- Alexa will be a more valuable commodity to hospital clients now that privacy concerns have been addressed. Now, hospitals can move Alexa devices from the fringes of healthcare delivery into the realm of patient care and administrative functions that entail handling patient data. For example, North Carolina-based Atrium Health already announced a new HIPAA-compliant Alexa skill that allows customers to locate and schedule a same-day appointment at a nearby urgent care facility.
- HIPAA compliance should help Amazon strengthen its strong grip on the smart speaker market. With HIPAA compliance, it should be easier for Amazon to equip Alexa with new consumer-oriented healthcare functions — like chronic disease management services linked to its line of exclusive health devices, or prescription refill skills related to its budding online pharmacy. Amazon already stands atop the US smart speaker market by a fair margin, and building out Alexa as a home health hub could help extend its lead over the competition.
- And Amazon gains a leg up on its smart speaker competitors in the healthcare sphere. Amazon beat Google — it’s primary smart speaker competitor— to HIPAA compliance. Not only does this first-mover advantage help Amazon gain mindshare over health firms eager for a HIPAA-compliant voice device, but Amazon also gets a head start on attracting an ecosystem of app developers that can further enrich Alexa as a healthcare tool.
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