Alexa For Healthcare: Amazon Takes A Next Step With HIPAA

Voice in healthcare

On August 27th (2020), Amazon quietly posted on the Alexa developer’s blog an update that represents another important step toward supporting use of the Alexa voice assistant for healthcare applications.

This latest update follows on Amazon’s more publicized announcement in April 2019 of their first limited program for building Alexa skills that can transfer personal health information (PHI) in compliance with the U.S. government regulations for healthcare data privacy and security — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or just HIPAA.

HIPAA-Eligible voice assistants

We wrote back then about the importance of this first foray on Amazon’s part to bringing Alexa into healthcare. We were also privileged to co-host a webinar on the topic with Boston Children’s Hospital, one of the early program participants (available to watch on-demand).

While last year’s program was invitation only, this latest update allows any developer to apply for the ability to create Alexa voice applications (or ‘skills’ as they’re called) that comply with HIPAA.

Amazon has essentially opened up the application form to anyone with an idea for how to use Alexa for healthcare applications that transmit protected health information or PHI. The program is still limited in that developers must apply and be accepted for participation in the program. Per Amazon, the selection criteria will be based on how “compelling” the user experience and they have provided guidance in the blog post on what to consider before applying for access to the program.

Also, importantly, Alexa skill developers interested in building a HIPAA-eligible skill must agree to Amazon’s standard Business Associates Agreement (BAA) for Alexa. An open question is whether and which healthcare organizations will be able to accept a non-negotiable BAA and the existing privacy terms offered by Amazon.

Orbita has been at the forefront of transforming patient experiences through our unique SaaS platform and services for creating AI-powered conversational voice and chat applications. We are proud to be both an Amazon Alexa Agency Partner and an Alexa Tool Provider and are excited to see Amazon’s continued progress in supporting healthcare applications for Alexa.

Contact Orbita now to learn how we can help you better reach and engage patients and drive efficiencies through secure, voice and chat-powered virtual assistants.

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By Nate Treloar, President & co-founder at Orbita

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Orbita powers virtual assistants that help healthcare and life science organizations engage patients, improve outcomes, and reduce costs.