19 Jul “Alexa, I have a headache”

Amazon announced a new feature for Alexa, its digital personal assistant, last week. British users of the device will now be able to ask the device for medical advice, with responses provided by the UK’s National Health Service.

This new development raises concerns about the privacy of health data. In the US, HIPAA was written at a time when the idea of consumers openly divulging potentially sensitive medical information to a private third party via commercial device would have been unthinkable. At this point, Amazon asserts that they will not be selling the query-related data to any third party, or using it to target product recommendations, but questions remain for the future.

On a more positive note, this could open up new avenues for providing basic, low-level health advice for everyday conditions to patients who may not have access to traditional medical facilities. Amazon has not specified, however, how their algorithms are designed to respond to questions about potentially serious symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath.

This is the latest development in Amazon’s move into the world of health. In May, the company announced an invite-only program for select health systems and insurers to develop HIPAA-compliant skills for the Alexa interface, including the ability to schedule appointments at health system-owned clinics using the device.

In any case, this will be something to watch in the months and years to come. To read more thoughts on Amazon’s announcement, click HERE. 

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