We could soon be talking to Alexa about much more than music, shopping lists and weather updates, as Amazon is reportedly building a team to incorporate its digital assistant with healthcare and wellness advice.
According to internal documents reviewed by the US news group CNBC , the objective of the working group is to make Alexa more useful in the healthcare field, and compliant with regulations and data privacy requirements laid out by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
Alexa already has widespread reach with Alexa, with up to 11% of US consumers using it in their home.
With the right compliance and licenses in place, Amazon could let customers share their medical records with Alexa-powered devices, which could then allow them to communicate with a medical professional from home, and share their sensitive medical records with qualified third parties.
What would this mean?
This technology has the potential to reduce healthcare costs for patients while being less time consuming than a visit to the doctor. Additionally, this may help reduce the strain on the healthcare sector by reducing physician’s contact hours with patients for issues that do not require intervention.
There is also huge potential in the future to implement these features with third-party apps such fitness and diet trackers, heart-rate monitors and even to devices that monitor blood glucose levels.
Using Alexa in this way could give Amazon more valuable insights into its users, which can be used to hone their experience. Undoubtedly giving Amazon access to user health data does raise privacy concerns, depending on what information it plans to collect and how it’s stored, but at this early stage the extent of data collection is difficult to predict.
Existing health and wellness features
In September 2017 the company announced that basic health information and advice provided by Mayo Clinic would be available on Alexa.
Users can download the Mayo Clinic First Aid skill on their device and then voice their concerns to the machine, which will give answers to dozens of everyday health issues or other self-care instructions.
Additionally, the KidsMD skill, which allows parents to ask for guidance on common illnesses, has logged more than 100,000 interactions with Amazon’s voice assistant, according to Harvard Business Review.
Following on from this, the newly formed group is expected to start looking at diabetes management, care for mothers and infants, and tools for the aging population.