Why Alexa’s Next Big Move Is Into Health CareClick here to view original web page at slate.com
Health care is a $3 trillion a year industry, and tech companies such as Amazon are vying for a slice of it. In January, the e-commerce giant announced a partnership with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway to “revolutionize health care.” Chiefly, this joint partnership would work toward developing a less costly health care network for their employees, but the exact aims and methods are otherwise vague. It’s also been rumored periodically that Amazon might enter the pharmaceutical business. Now, reports suggest Amazon is interested in building health care applications directly into its virtual assistant, Alexa.
Amazon is building a 12-person health and wellness team within its Alexa division to help make the assistant more useful to the health care sector, according to CNBC. This includes ensuring its functionality is compliant with health privacy laws. Diabetes management, care for the elderly, and care for new mothers and infants are specific targets of the team. Integrating Alexa with health care—particularly in managing chronic illness like diabetes—makes sense. In many households, Alexa eventually becomes part of the family, working her way into day-to-day activities like controlling the home or learning the news in the morning. Amazon could easily add a new Alexa Blueprint skill that reminds a user of medications that need to be taken at a certain time, coordinates with other apps to log glucose or blood pressure levels, or keeps track of upcoming doctor’s appointments.
In fact, some health care providers and hospitals have already begun working on their own Alexa skills. Libertana Home Health Care has trialed Alexa as a home health care aide for the elderly, helping ensure clients take their medications on time, keeping them connected with distant family members, and acting as a lifeline in the case of falls or injuries. Hospitals such as Massachusetts General have even tested Alexa in the operating room, helping surgeons go through safety checklists before beginning procedures.
Now, rather than relying on third-party developers to create skills for the health care sector, Amazon has a team working on natively allowing for variations of these kinds of experiences. The benefit for Amazon here is threefold: First, it makes it easier for an organization (whether it’s a hospital, retirement home, or insurance provider) to integrate Alexa into their operations. Developing an app of your own can be time-consuming and costly; this removes barriers. This also opens up Alexa products to new markets. With various health and wellness-monitoring capabilities baked in, it may make more sense as a gift to an elderly family member, and it opens the possibility of mass purchases by health care organizations. Lastly, it could give Amazon more valuable insights into its users, which can be used to hone their experience. Of course, giving Amazon access to user health data also raises privacy concerns, depending on what information it plans to collect and how it’s stored—but at this point, that’s difficult to predict.
With an aging population and an anticipated shortage of nurses, the addition of Echo devices in physicians’ offices and hospitals could help alleviate some of the more mundane and tedious tasks health care providers have to deal with. This could help them spend their time more efficiently and in places that matter most. It can also help bring peace of mind for loved ones knowing that an elderly relative can reach out to them with a simple voice command if needed. For other populations, such as new parents, Alexa could be built out to act as a robust resource for the many questions and concerns one typically has with an infant. Paired with the appropriate smartphone apps, client portals, and personnel, Alexa could prove useful in the health care space—and for Amazon, it doesn’t hurt that that endeavor could also be quite profitable.