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Electronic home assistants coming to a hospital near you

With the rising influence of tech companies such as Amazon and Google in almost every sphere of life, it may be no surprise that these major players are now venturing into the healthcare space.

Emerging healthcare technologies 2019

Our world has become increasingly digitised and this has created the opportunity for electronic devices such as smart speakers to streamline patient experiences.

Products currently used by tens of millions of US citizens include Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. These devices have the potential to decrease the time spent manually updating patient records, allowing physicians to spend more time with their patients.

Such technologies might also reduce the financial burden on healthcare systems by allowing patients to have certain medical questions answered, book appointments and receive reminders. With this market estimated at about $3.5tn the financial incentive for tech companies to enter the healthcare industry is significant.

US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

Recently, Amazon announced it would allow developers to create HIPAA-compliant healthcare abilities for its electronic assistant, Alexa. These developers will have to comply with HIPAA (the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), which functions to ensure the protection of patient information.

Programmes currently in development for Alexa will allow patients to access their medical records and check the results of certain medical tests. For instance, Livongo has created a programme for patients to access their blood sugar level readings by voice commands. Amazon has also launched its Comprehend Medical, a machine learning tool that gathers information on physician notes and patient health records.

Other companies with electronic assistants, such as Google, have the potential to compete with Amazon in the healthcare sector but will need to catch up with Amazon’s HIPAA compliance if they want to stay competitive.

According to the HIPAA Journal, Google Assistant and its Home speakers are not currently meeting HIPAA guidelines and are ineligible for use in healthcare settings. However, some of Google’s cloud services do comply with HIPAA. Until Google ensures that its Assistant and Home speaker meet the requirements of HIPAA, Amazon’s Alexa will continue to have an edge in the healthcare space.

With products such as Alexa storing sensitive medical information, patients will want to know that companies will be able to secure their information. Amazon will need to be transparent about how the devices are securing patient information before consumers are comfortable using these devices for medical purposes.

To secure sensitive patient information, Amazon includes encryption capabilities and securely stores data on the Amazon cloud.

Developers creating medical-related capabilities for Alexa must comply with HIPAA’s Privacy and Security rules. This includes having proper encryption and restricting access to patient information. However, consumers should remain cautious, as there are minimal checks in place to ensure that developers are following HIPAA regulations.

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