Non-HIPAA Compliance of Amazon Alexa Limits Application in Health Care


Amazon Alexa can be used in the healthcare industry but it is limited because of its non-HIPAA compliance. Although that may change in the near future. At this time, AWS, Amazon’s cloud platform, supports HIPAA compliance. Amazon’s voice recognition technology may also be used much more extensively in healthcare. However, before Alexa could reach its real potential, it must become HIPAA compliant first.

Alexa unquestionably has huge potential in health care. Doctors can use it for patient notes transcription or for virtual assistance in the clinic. Approximately 30 million households in the U.S already use Alexa. The technology can be conveniently used for remote patient monitoring and create more engagement in patients’ personal healthcare.

Some healthcare organizations have started exploring the use of Alexa. WebMD made an Alexa skill to deliver its web content material to consumers via their Alexa devices at home. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) experimented with Alexa’s features in an inpatient setting, while not using actual patient data. That pilot test produced very telling results. BIDMC plans to utilize Alexa in a clinical setting once appropriate safeguards have been designed and if Amazon is all set to sign a business associate agreement (BAA).

Boston’s Children’s Hospital (BCH) is similarly pilot testing Alexa to send out information to its medical team, but only non-identifiable health content was sent without a BAA with Amazon. BCH has also designed an Alexa skill called KidsMD. It allows parents to ask questions about health conditions and get guidance on common health issues.

Merck encouraged creators to come up with revolutionary ways of using Alexa to help diabetic patients. Hence, the Alexa Diabetes Challenge was introduced in April 2017 to help the 27.5 million American patients with type 2 diabetes.

Effective remedies can be accessed and when combined with lifestyle changes, patients could enjoy longer and healthier lives. However, self-management is hard for patients, specially for those just diagnosed with the disease. Amazon wants ideas about patient-centric solutions using the Alexa voice recognition technology.

Oxana Pickeral, Amazon Web Services’ Global Segment Leader for Healthcare & Life Sciences said that HIPAA is a matter that need to be sorted out before Alexa could be widely used in health care. She pointed out how the Diabetes Challenge demonstrated the potential use of this technology. So, Amazon is presently considering how to address the issue of HIPAA for Alexa.

Since the work has been completed on AWS, the basics are all set. However, until the right safeguards have been integrated with Alexa and the Lex platform, HIPAA-covered entities can’t use the voice recognition technology in conjunction with protected health information.

Amazon is definitely working on the HIPAA compliance of Alexa, however a BAA must be signed. Or else, it’s not allowed to use Alexa with identifiable health information in a healthcare setting.