Dr. Alexa, is Amazon Branching into Telemedicine?

Amazon’s cloud-based voice assistant Alexa is getting into the telemedicine industry. The service is currently available on 60,000 different devices, including Amazon’s Echo smart speaker and those from third-party manufacturers. Alexa can perform over 90,000 skills, such as playing songs, controlling video streaming services like Netflix, and making voice calls, but now it can even assist you with your health.

Amazon recently announced that Alexa is now HIPAA-compliant, and the company is partnering with several healthcare organizations and telemedicine service providers. Dive into this new trend in the telemedicine industry and discover how the e-commerce giant is taking on healthcare.

Amazon’s Invite-Only Healthcare Program

Now that Alexa is HIPAA-compliant, healthcare organizations are developing voice-controlled telehealth services for smart speakers that use Alexa technology. Amazon has invited a select number of healthcare organizations to participate in the program, including the Boston Children’s Hospital, Livongo, Cigna, Express Scripts, Providence St. Joseph Health’s Swedish Health Connect, and Atrium Health.

Boston Children’s Hospital is developing a system for Alexa devices that would allow patients recovering from surgery at home to quickly communicate with healthcare providers. Patients can send health-related information to providers without performing acts that may be difficult for some patients recovering from surgery, including getting up, dialing a call or using a touchscreen device.

Livongo, a California-based digital health management company, will use Alexa to connect patients to its Livongo for Diabetes connected care platform. Patients with diabetes can quickly access their medical information, schedule appointments, and update their records using only their voices. The company’s President Jennifer Schneider, MD, MS released a statement, saying:

“Speaking and listening are natural communication channels, and voice-based capabilities also allow us to reach people who prefer other modes of communication. Our members now have the ability to hear their last blood glucose check by simply asking Alexa. In providing seamless health insights while our members are preparing meals or are about to exercise, Livongo can more effectively drive positive behavior change.”

Swedish Health Connect and Atrium Health are developing an urgent care center directory for Alexa devices. Patients will be able to locate healthcare centers nearby and schedule an appointment using only their voices. Express Scripts is developing a platform that would allow patients to track the status of their mail order prescriptions with their voices.

Patients with limited physical mobility or those who are unable to see or use touchscreen devices can use Alexa and other voice-activated systems to quickly connect with healthcare providers. With potentially seamless communication between patients and providers, patients can spend less time in costly care environments and more time recuperating at home.

How Amazon Could Change the Healthcare Industry

With a vast supply chain network, an e-commerce website with millions of products, and brick-and-mortar retail locations, Amazon is perfectly positioned to disrupt the healthcare industry in more ways than one. Alexa and these early voice-activated healthcare platforms may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Amazon’s healthcare ambitions, helping the company compete with the likes of Walmart, which recently released a standalone healthcare clinic, a healthcare app for shoppers, and a landmark partnership with CVS.

Amazon may use its resources to disrupt the medical supplies industry as well. The company has already obtained licenses to distribute medical supplies to providers in 43 states. Amazon may also start selling prescription medications online and at Whole Foods grocery stores. The company has secured approval as a wholesale distributor from 12 state pharmaceutical boards. In addition, Amazon might also use AI-powered algorithms to predict patient behavior and future healthcare needs and trends.

Now that the company has partnered with Express Scripts, it could act as a pharmacy benefit manager or PBM in the future. PBMs drive down the prices of pharmaceuticals by negotiating on the behalf of healthcare plan enrollees. If more patients use Amazon devices and Express Scripts to order prescriptions, Amazon may have substantial leverage in this arena.

The e-commerce giant is quickly expanding beyond the retail industry by partnering with telemedicine service developers. Amazon may soon position itself as the backbone of the U.S. healthcare industry by tracking patient behavior and selling medical devices, equipment and prescription medications. These advances may ultimately benefit patients and providers, driving down prices and making it easier for patients to stay on top of their healthcare needs.

Stay tuned as we follow Amazon’s foray into healthcare.

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