Can Alexa give better healthcare advice than your doctor?

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In 1999 Amazon made its first move into the healthcare industry. The e-commerce giant invested in Drugstore.com, with the intent of expanding Amazon.com into the pharma industry — but a series of regulatory hurdles and other obstacles forced the tech behemoth to abandon its intents. Until now. The NewtonX healthcare vertical consulted with hundreds of executives in the healthcare sector and the healthcare technology sector to determine the viability of Amazon’s latest move into healthcare: hands-free, smartspeaker-integrated, patient voice assistant.

This month, Amazon’s Alexa Fund announced investments in a hands-free patient voice assistant called Aiva. The investment comes after a series of calculated moves into the healthcare space by Amazon, including acquiring PillPack for almost $1B and announcing a partnership with Berkshire Hathaway to offer its own health insurance to Amazon employees. But this is the first step toward offering voice-based healthcare, a move that fits with predictions NewtonX experts made last year about Amazon using Alexa to offer in-home patient advice and reminders.

NewtonX revisited these same experts to analyze the investment in Aiva, and the possibilities for Alexa as an in-home patient caretaker.

The insights from this article are sourced from NewtonX surveys, panels, and expert consultations. To gain access to these services visit newtonx.com.

Alexa, What’s The Future of Healthcare?

Earlier this year, Amazon quietly posted a job for a HIPAA Compliance Lead for the Alexa Information Group, and NewtonX experts confirmed that such an employee has in fact been hired, even though the job posting was removed after reporters picked up on it. The posting was highly significant, as Alexa would need to be HIPAA compliant in order to process and act upon medically sensitive information. The Compliance Lead joins a 12-person Alexa Information Group Health and Wellness team, aiming to ready the voice assistant for its new role as doctor assistant.

The most obvious application of Alexa for healthcare would be giving patients reminders to take medications or otherwise adhere to their medical plans. This would be particularly useful for patients who have complicated regimens, chronic illnesses like diabetes, or who suffer from memory loss. Indeed, the primary areas of focus for Amazon are chronic illness management, senior care, and care for mothers and newborn infants. Because Alexa can pair with other devices, the smartspeaker could alert patients of real-time health triggers, such as heart rate or glucose levels.

Several hospitals have already begun trialing Alexa for Healthcare. Massachusetts General tested Alexa in the operating room to help surgeons go through checklists, while Libertana Home Health Care trialed Alexa as a reminder system for the elderly to take their medication and to act as an accessible lifeline in case of a fall or emergency.

Alexa is also well on its way to having a robust ecosystem of third-party healthcare applications. The Alexa app platform already has apps from the Mayo Clinic and Libertana, both of which answer health questions, can be used to communicate hands free with caregivers, and can send alerts in emergencies. Additionally, Alexa could serve as a hub for the increasingly popular telemedicine industry (see our article on the subject here), and could provide a seamless experience between telemedicine and pharmaceutical services (such as PillPack). Amazon is also reportedly building out a suite of experiences like these to be built directly into the Echo to ensure that apps work together seamlessly.

Hospitals, Consumers, and Doctors: Amazon Wants Them All

Building the first smartspeaker for the healthcare industry opens Amazon up to three new markets within a space that it already dominates (see our article on the smartspeaker landscape here).

The first market is healthcare organizations, from hospitals to caregiver services, to insurance providers. The healthcare industry is increasingly investing in preventative care such as Oscar Health Insurance’s step goals incentivization program. Alexa could integrate with these programs to remind and motivate patients to take care of themselves.

Additionally, Amazon can target one of the most difficult populations to reach for a tech company: senior citizens. In fact, this elusive market is becoming more lucrative than it’s ever been due to an aging population with longer life expectancy. If Amazon can successfully dominate the retirement care market, it will tap into a large population of new consumers.

Finally, Amazon would have an absolute trove of valuable user data to improve the home experience — both from a healthcare perspective and for its regular home users. That said, how Amazon will be able to use the data related to medical information will likely be restricted due to HIPAA compliance.

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About Author

Germain Chastel is the CEO and Founder of NewtonX.

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