In 2019, Alexa Health and Wellness announced the launch of HIPAA-eligible skills, making it possible for Alexa users to access personalized healthcare services by using their voice. Following this announcement, multiple companies have released HIPAA-eligible skills that help Alexa users make more informed decisions about their health and improve their overall wellbeing. For instance, Amazon Pharmacy helps people conveniently refill their prescriptions with a few simple voice commands, and Symptom Checker gives users the ability to get guidance about analyzing their symptoms by answering a series of diagnostic questions.
As of 2022, Alexa is the only HIPAA-eligible voice assistant available on the market—an achievement pioneered by the Alexa Health and Wellness team. For several years, the Alexa Health team has been working to transform health care and solve problems that medical providers often face within the healthcare industry.
Kiyana Turner, Head of Business Development and Partnerships for Alexa Health and Wellness, and Vikram Anand, Lead Solutions Architect at Alexa Health and Wellness, have been at the forefront of these efforts, offering their experience working in the healthcare space to develop voice-based solutions that support positive patient outcomes and make healthcare services more accessible.
Leading change in healthcare
Since graduating from Columbia with a master’s degree in Health Care Administration, Turner has been helping healthcare organizations use technology to benefit both patients and medical providers alike. “I love being a part of leading the charge for what the future of technology in healthcare will look like,” says Turner. She is passionate about pushing the boundaries at the intersection of innovation and digital health. Her first foray in healthcare after graduate school was as a management consultant advising hospitals on enterprise technology transformation projects. She later joined a digital health startup focused on providing patients and providers with actionable information to increase adherence rates and improve patient outcomes.
In 2020, Turner joined the Alexa Health and Wellness Business Development team. In this role, Turner facilitates strategic partnerships with organizations that are looking to use voice to help millions of Alexa users better manage their health and wellness at home. “Many of our healthcare partners are motivated to use Alexa because of our HIPAA eligibility,” says Turner. “It shows that we have done our due diligence to handle personal health information with privacy and security in mind.”
On the technical side, Anand joined the Alexa Health and Wellness team with over 16 years of experience working in the healthcare industry. In the course of his career, Anand has worked at companies like Siemens in developing electronic health records, revenue cycle management, and population health.
“I love building solutions that helped people create a care plan that would help them get to a better state,” says Anand.
Anand became a solutions architect with the Alexa Health and Wellness team in 2019, and since then, his focus has been on providing partners with the technical support they need to develop skills on Alexa. “At Alexa, I can actually bring real care to a patient by building out whole skills and experiences that they can use,” says Anand.
Five ways Alexa is transforming the healthcare space
Together, Anand and Turner combine their industry knowledge to solve problems in the healthcare industry leveraging the power of voice AI. There are five major areas where the Alexa Health and Wellness team has focused on driving innovation:
1. Connecting to the patient
“One of the problems we’ve identified has been connecting to the patient,” says Anand. “Phone calls, text messages, email, and patient portals are the common ways medical providers try to reach their patients, but phone calls and emails are often ignored, and patient portal usage is pretty low.”
Using Alexa, medical providers can create personalized health programs that help keep their patients on track, improve adherence rates, and reduce rehospitalizations. For example, in 2019 Livongo launched an Alexa skill that reminded diabetes patients to check their blood glucose levels and delivered insights about their health in real-time.
2. Increasing accessibility to healthcare
With a lack of medical facilities and insurance coverage in many parts of the United States, and widespread medical staff shortages, setting up an in-person visit to see a physician can be especially difficult. Considering these challenges, the Alexa team has worked to develop Alexa experiences that give patients the ability to seek care from the comfort of their home, without an existing relationship with a physician or insurance plan. Using Teladoc on Alexa, patients in the United States can connect to a physician 24-7 by simply saying, “Alexa, I want to talk to a doctor.”
“Alexa is in a very unique position to help people with certain health conditions, such as visual impairments or dexterity issues,” says Turner. “Instead of navigating on a small smartphone screen, people can get access to the same information using just their voice.”
3. Alleviating the burden on medical staff
Because Alexa can assist with tasks such as answering basic questions about prescriptions, it is helping alleviate the burden placed on healthcare providers and hospitals. In 2019, ChristianaCare announced that it would use Alexa to launch ChristianaCare HomeHealth, a program that uses Alexa to augment the care provided by their home-health service.
“Several organizations have seen a reduction in phone calls to their office and other operational efficiencies; a time-saver for physicians and their care teams,” says Turner. As a result, healthcare providers can focus on critical cases that require their utmost attention.
4. Establishing a Healthy Routine
“Improving your health journey means forming healthy habits, such as sleeping and eating well,” says Anand. Using Alexa, users can download a variety of skills that help them cultivate healthy habits, from practicing mindfulness to tracking their physical activity. And because Alexa is powered by artificial intelligence, it will remind Alexa users of their health goals without them having to set notifications on their phones or remember on their own.
For the ChristianaCare HomeHealth skill, patients can simply ask, ‘Alexa, what do I need to do today?’ and Alexa will remind users of their upcoming appointments, what medications they need to take, and what exercises they should do while tying it all to a personal health goal, such as wanting to walk your daughter down the aisle next year. It makes a huge difference in motivation when we can remind patients not just what they should be doing, but why they’re doing it,” says Turner.
5. Offering non-judgmental care
Some Alexa users may feel more comfortable asking sensitive questions to a voice assistant before talking to an actual person.
This became apparent during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when the team noticed an increase in users mentioning symptoms of depression and anxiety to Alexa. The team realized that Alexa could be particularly beneficial in supporting emotional health and wellness. “We’ve built additional ways for Alexa to be empathetic and responsive to mental health concerns,” says Anand. “Alexa can connect you to mindfulness or meditation skills, offer you tips from licensed therapists across a variety of topics, or connect you directly to a crisis counselor in more urgent situations.”
Transforming the future of healthcare
The Alexa Health and Wellness team will continue working alongside healthcare organizations to develop healthcare experiences that are both useful and convenient for millions of Alexa users. “The key to making a good skill is creating something that is trustworthy and simple,” says Anand.
To get involved, learn more about Alexa Health and Wellness and how your organization can develop personalized health and wellness skills for millions of Alexa users.