Amazon Opens Applications for HIPAA-Eligible Alexa Skills

 


Amazon is expanding its HIPAA-compliant Alexa skill program, a year after it first debuted. Any interested voice app developer may now apply for the special certification proving the skill complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and with Amazon’s standards for those skills. As applying voice technology to healthcare becomes more popular, offering a guide toward HIPAA compliance could help position Amazon as a leader in the space.

HIPAA ALEXA

Amazon unveiled its HIPAA-compliance program over a year ago. Six voice apps and the Alexa platform were certified by the government as safe to collect and distribute Protected Health Information (PHI) appropriately. Talkspace, Boston Children’s Hospital, and the others were all invited to participate in the program, and until now, it has remained an invite-only program. At the time, Amazon painted the limits as necessary to test and improve how the program would operate, including the release of an Alexa Skills Kit specifically for healthcare. T Developers must explain why they want the certification, how they will get people to find and use it, and how it will offer a “compelling experience” for users. Just technically complying with all of the guidelines is not enough, and Amazon has made it clear that not every application will be approved, regardless of a developer’s technical ability.

“Over the past year, we have seen that HIPAA-eligible skills are a powerful way to connect Covered Entities and Business Associates with their users in an easy to use, conversational voice experience. HIPAA-eligible skills give users a hands-free way to quickly manage a variety of healthcare needs at home, whether that is asking for their remaining insurance deductible, accessing hospital post-discharge instructions, or as part of an ongoing disease management program,” Amazon’s Matt Hasten said in a blog post. “Developers accepted into the program will find a new tab in the developer console where you can learn more about how to build a HIPAA-eligible skill, the unique technical requirements for HIPAA-eligible skills, and then when you are ready, indicate that you intend for your skill to handle PHI and agree to the Alexa Business Associate Agreement.”

HEALTH’S VOICE

HIPAA’s restrictions are seen as important for protecting people’s health data, but they have slowed down the introduction of voice technology to healthcare in many ways, even as more people want to do so. As seen in the image above, a Voicebot survey found that more than half of U.S. adults are interested in making voice assistants part of their healthcare. Amazon is exploring other ways to use voice technology for healthcare. The new Amazon Halo fitness band, which is HIPAA-compliant, includes a feature to judge your social health by the tone of your voice, although the device offers no Alexa support at all.

The updated application for the HIPAA Alexa program is notably strict, especially considering that the company has been accused of being lax in its oversight of Alexa skills. Researchers recently claimed they smuggled 234 skills deliberately designed to break Amazon’s policy into the Alexa skill store. HIPAA-compliant skills will be scrutinized much more closely, and the platform will filter the skills to automatically preserve some privacy, redacting anything said to the HIPAA-skill in a user’s history, and streamlining the process for deleting Alexa data.