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Here’s How Boston Children’s Is Using Alexa’s HIPAA-Compliant Tools

Amazon invited six healthcare partners to test out Alexa’s new technology that allows patient data to be securely transmitted.

Here’s How Boston Children’s Is Using Alexa’s HIPAA-Compliant Tools

Some experts have voiced concerns regarding the voice assistant technology's ability to remain completely HIPAA-compliant.

Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant technology can now transmit and receive protected health information, and Boston Children’s Hospital is one of six healthcare entities that is experimenting with the new capability.

Healthcare facilities now have the ability to build Alexa voice tools capable of securely transmitting private patient information, reports Stat News. The announcement was accompanied by the unveiling of six voice programs developed by large healthcare entities, including Boston Children’s.

The voice apps are built with Alexa Skill Sets, which now provides a HIPAA-eligible environment to select partners participating in an invite-only program.

In an interview with Information Security Media Group, John Brownstein, Boston Children’s Hospital’s chief innovation officer, said the hospital uses the application to help parents and caregivers of children who have undergone heart surgery.

The voice program, dubbed “ERAS,” allows authorized users to provide updates about a child’s recovery, such as pain levels, once they have been released from the hospital. It allows healthcare providers to stay on top of any deviation in the recovery process and intervene if needed.

“We’re in a renaissance of voice technology and voice assistants in health care,” said Brownstein. “It’s so appealing as there’s very little training, it’s low cost and convenient.”

He also assured that the application is HIPAA-compliant and that the hospital signed a business associate agreement with Amazon.

“We use a voice PIN and certain protections to make sure that we’re working with the right patient or parent or guardian.”

While many are excited at the new possibilities, some experts caution there is room for error, reports Knowledge.

“I think they are testing the water here, but the potential is so huge that my guess is they’re willing to take some risks,” said Arnold Rosoff, a professor of legal studies and healthcare management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The healthcare sector is a $3.5 trillion industry.

Here are the other healthcare entities that are also piloting Alexa’s new skill set:

  • Cigna, a health insurance provider, created a voice program to allow employees to manage their health improvement goals and earn wellness incentives
  • Express Scripts, a pharmacy services organization, created a tool that allows users to check the delivery status of prescriptions and set up shipment notifications
  • Providence St. Joseph Health, a network of 51 hospitals in seven states, and Atrium Health, a network of over 40 hospitals and 900 clinics, created tools that enable customers to search for a nearby urgent care center and schedule a same-day appointment
  • Livongo, a digital health company that helps patients manage chronic conditions, uses Alexa to allow patients to request their last blood sugar reading and blood sugar measurement trends

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Amy Rock is Campus Safety's senior editor. She graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a minor in Education.

She has worked in the publishing industry since 2011, in both events and digital marketing.

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