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Paging Doctor Amazon Alexa

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By George Khoury, Esq. on April 10, 2019 3:00 PM

In this brave new world we are living in, smarthome devices are really starting to deliver on those promises of futuristic living we’ve all grown to expect.

Simply put, if you aren’t amazed by watching a child demand an Alexa device show them videos of trains, the newest Alexa skills of ordering meds, setting doctor appointments, and other medical related tasks, are sure to change that. These “smarthome” devices are being programmed, or taught, to do more and more everyday, and the most recent Amazon partnerships are likely just the beginning of the new era of smart-medicine. But the outcome might be legal, as well as medical.  

What About Privacy?

One of the biggest hurdles for technology companies to overcome when it comes to developing tech for the medical community and patients is HIPAA. That’s the federal law that regulates medical privacy, or how hospitals, doctors, or other medical professionals, can share your medical history. Notably, Amazon has developed a HIPAA compliant environment for developers creating the “skills” for Alexa to build new functionality for the device. Fortunately, the environment is not open to just any developer as each will have to apply to be part of a program. Currently, it is an invite only program

So What Can Nurse Alexa Do?

As of yet, Alexa’s uses in the medical field are rather limited. In a few states, certain patients in participating hospitals are able to make appointments and order prescriptions. For some patients with compatible medical devices, such as certain blood sugar readers, Alexa can read back the most recent test results. While none of this may seem revolutionary on its face, the fact that this can be done in a HIPAA compliant fashion is indeed a big breakthrough, and merely the tip of the iceberg.

Alexa has had a successful trial run in patients’ rooms in a hospital as well, and if science fiction is any indication of the future, you can probably expect that these virtual assistants are likely to get promoted (or upgraded) to virtual nurse’s assistant in the coming years. With any luck, these devices can help bring down the operating costs for hospitals, which hopefully (though unlikely given the recent trends) will bring the cost of healthcare down.

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