Amazon may be known as the "everything store," but the company's tendrils extend far beyond ecommerce. On Thursday, Amazon said Alexa-enabled devices can now handle customers' sensitive medical data, and it teased the release of a new kit that would allow approved outside developers to build Alexa skills that access users' private health information, paving the way for the voice assistant to play a bigger role in health care. With the announcement came the release of new skills giving Alexa the ability to relay and store blood sugar measurements from internet-connected monitoring devices, help schedule doctors' appointments, pass on post-op instructions from hospitals, and provide prescription delivery updates by securely accessing customers' private medical information. As part of the announcement, Amazon said it had committed to protect personal health information according to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which protects the privacy of medical records. Alexa's health and wellness team had been working to obtain HIPAA compliance for months.
A New Jersey woman is alive because her Apple Watch alerted her to an elevated heart rate. It turned out she had fluid around her heart from a viral infection. Medical alert systems have been around for some time. Often, they're wearable devices that can detect when you fall, and alert emergency personnel if it senses you aren't responding. But what happens if you aren't wearing a device, or if you aren't experiencing any triggering signs or symptoms of a medical emergency at all?
Andrew Rebhan, MBA is a health IT research consultant with Advisory Board of Washington, DC. Natural language processing (NLP) techniques allow digital systems to streamline user interactions allowing machines to read text, understand meaning, and generate narratives from existing information. Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have accelerated progress in a broad range of NLP applications for healthcare, including digital assistants for clinical staff, concierge services for patients, and digital scribes to streamline documentation processes. For example, last Fall Nuance Communications released its Dragon Medical Virtual Assistant to help health care providers interact with clinical workflows using NLP and other conversational AI functionality. Nuance announced at HIMSS18 that it will integrate its virtual assistant technology into Epic's EHR.
As we know by now, Alexa can play a song, order a pizza or do a quick online search. But now it can do something much more valuable: save your life. According to the results of a new proof-of-concept study, Alexa can accurately identify a specific pattern of breathing known as agonal breathing or gasping for air, that develops in the setting of an impending cardiac arrest, or when your heart stops beating. The research was published yesterday in the npj Digital Medicine. The implications for this novel form of contactless AI monitoring to detect cardiac arrest are broad, and offer the unique possibility to dispatch an ambulance to a victim who may be alone at home.
Over the last couple of years, Amazon appears to have been laying the foundations for a more significant healthcare push. Amazon is hardly the first tech titan to turn its attention to the health space: Google has DeepMind and Verily; the Apple Watch can now offer you an ECG, while IBM is pushing Watson and numerous strands of healthcare industry software. Even Facebook has in the past dipped its toe in the market with a data-sharing project. The reasons for Amazon's interest in the healthcare market are likely to be same ones that the sector appeals to its competitors. "Amazon likes to target two kinds of industry: the first is where they see an opportunity to reform, where it's not the most user friendly of industries, where there's a lack of trust... The second is where they see a lot of uneven profit margins being distributed, where a few companies are making a lot of money, they have high profit margins and customers are unhappy."