Amazon ends support for HIPAA-protected Alexa tool


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Gabriel Perna

Amazon is ending support for a program that allowed patients to share Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-protected information with hospitals and health insurers over its artificial intelligence-enabled device Alexa, the tech giant said Thursday. 

Amazon said it will stop supporting Alexa third-party, HIPAA-eligible program and any protected health information on the program will be deleted by the end of the next week. Artificial intelligence news site Voicebot first reported Amazon’s decision. 

Amazon rolled out the program in April 2019, inviting select hospitals and health insurers to develop HIPAA-compliant applications (referred internally as skills) that could be used with Alexa. Amazon launched it with six healthcare organizations including Charlotte-based Atrium Health; Boston Children’s Hospital; Renton, Washington-based Providence; Bloomfield, Connecticut-based Cigna; digital health company Livongo, which has since been sold to Teladoc Health; and pharmacy benefit management company Express Scripts. 

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Initial capabilities included scheduling appointments, reading blood sugar levels through connected devices, reading post-operation progress notes and managing delivery of prescriptions. On Wednesday, three of those organizations—Boston Children’s, Providence and Express Scripts (which is owned by Cigna)— had apps active on the Alexa skills store. None of the three immediately responded to a request for comment.   

Amazon also announced Alexa capabilities with Teladoc in February. A spokesperson for Teladoc said “Teladoc for Alexa” is no longer active. 

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company it will continue to support Alexa Smart Properties for Healthcare, a division that sells Alexa devices and voice tools to hospitals and providers to deploy and centrally manage throughout their organizations. It is used at Tampa, Florida-based Baycare, Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai and Houston Methodist.

Amazon’s decision to end the Alexa initiative is the latest twist in the tech giant’s topsy-turvy push into healthcare. In July, the company announced plans to acquire One Medical, a membership-based primary care company, for $3.9 million. The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing the transaction.

In August, Amazon announced it was shutting down its Amazon Care service at the end of the year. A month later, the company laid off 400 workers related to the closing of Amazon Care. In November, the company launched Amazon Clinic, a “virtual health storefront” offering users access to third-party telehealth providers.  

This story first appeared in Digital Health Business & Technology.

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