‘Alexa, what’s my blood sugar?’—Amazon unveils HIPAA-compliant voice services

Amazon has announced that its smartspeaker voice assistant Alexa is now HIPAA-compliant and can serve as your very own healthcare valet.

To start, the retail and computing giant has paired up with six companies to develop programs that can harbor protected prescription information, book doctor appointments, track blood glucose levels and find the nearest urgent care center.

That includes a program from the digital health company Livongo, a member of the 2017 class of the FierceMedTech Fierce 15, which allows members to ask for their last blood sugar reading, identify trends, and receive personalized “Health Nudges” based on their blood pressure.

“We believe that voice technology will have an impactful role in helping our Members better manage their chronic conditions, and health in general,” said Livongo President Jennifer Schneider in a statement. “Speaking and listening are natural communication channels, and voice-based capabilities also allow us to reach people who prefer other modes of communication."

"In providing seamless health insights while our Members are preparing meals or about to exercise, Livongo can more effectively drive positive behavior change," Schneider added.

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Amazon’s invite-only program currently includes HIPAA covered entities and their business associates—such as providers, payors and pharmacy benefit managers, as well as digital health coaches—and the company plans to open the program up to additional developers, according to Rachel Jiang, Amazon’s head of Alexa Health & Wellness.

Express Scripts members, for example, will be able to check the shipping status of their prescription medication, while certain Cigna customers can keep pace with their health improvement goals and wellness incentives.

Meanwhile, Boston Children’s Hospital has developed a program for the parents and caregivers of children recovering from surgery, allowing them to access discharge instructions, update care teams with progress and receive information on post-op appointments.

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“We believe it is just one example of how voice technology can extend the care and support of our patients beyond the four walls of the hospital.” said John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s.

Additionally, two other large healthcare systems, Providence St. Joseph Health and Atrium Health, now let Alexa search for local urgent care centers and book appointments the same day.

With more than 100 million Alexa-powered devices sold to date, Amazon’s move could become a big splash as more and more consumer-focused tech companies rush to meet HIPAA privacy standards for transmitting protected health information.

The messaging company Slack, for example, disclosed in February that its enterprise document upload systems are now certified, while it works to bring its broader services into compliance.