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Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, has become a household fixture that is used to turn the lights on, play music, check the weather and order a new supply of fish food. Now, users can ask Alexa to find a doctor, or check their blood sugar!

This year Amazon announced that Alexa is now HIPAA compliant. This means Alexa is now able and allowed to receive and transmit personal health information that has traditionally been considered private.

HIPAA stands for the Heath Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This law, enacted in 1996, provides a standard to protect the medical records and health information of patients generated and/or supplied by health plans, physicians, hospitals and other care providers. 

Amazon previously announced that its AWS service was HIPAA compliant and could be used to securely process, maintain, and store protected health information. Amazon has now worked with a few business to bring a handful of medical services conveniently to their customers through Alexa. So far, Alexa’s menu of HIPAA compliant services is somewhat small and was designed on Amazon’s invitation. These include:

However, Amazon has made it clear that a set of language-building tools in its Alexa skills kit will also be designed with HIPAA compliance, thus allowing even more companies to create voice features for Amazon Echo devices. Healthcare providers should therefore expect much more from the language assistant in the future. 

Using Alexa receive and transmit personal health information has already raised eyebrows. Under HIPAA, the standards by which health information is privately and securely transmitted are quite stringent. Beyond signing a Business Associate Agreement, Amazon will have to show how it deals with user authenticating users, privacy in shared spaces, eavesdropping, hackers, how integration with electronic health records and other systems, to name a few.