As of April this year, Amazon Alexa is HIPAA-compliant. And as the healthcare industry continues to embrace AI technology, the implications are huge.
Smart speakers like Alexa, Siri, and Google Home offer numerous benefits for patients and healthcare organizations alike. But none of the progress is possible without first establishing that protected health information (PHI) is genuinely secure.
Now that Amazon can legitimately tout their security encryption technology, healthcare organizations are faced with an unprecedented opportunity for innovation. Here are just a few of the questions and considerations that arise from a partnership between the healthcare sector and smart speaker manufacturers.
“Alexa, how can you help my patients?”
Alan Stein, Vice President of Saxony’s Healthcare practice, says that AI and smart speakers like Alexa have the potential to make a revolutionary impact on clinical decision-making.
“One of the most significant breakdowns in quality of care is the continuity of information between the provider and the patient,” Stein said. “Smart speakers can improve follow up care because they make it easier for the patient to engage with their healthcare providers regularly. The data smart speakers can capture gives diagnostics and treatment decisions a head start.”
Ordinarily it would be impossible for healthcare providers to constantly capture accurate data that exists outside the four walls of their facilities. But smart speakers allow patients to provide more information from the comfort of their own homes, without the limitations of business hours.
Since smart speakers like Alexa obtain data in real time as the patient experiences symptoms or makes progress after a health procedure, they empower healthcare providers with more complete information that can in turn allow them to treat patients more effectively.
“Using a telehealth consult or a remote Alexa skill helps people who live in remote areas gain instant access to healthcare and removes barriers to obtaining that care,” McClintock said.
For patients who are inhibited from accessing care due to cost, distance, or mobility limitations, AI offers a convenient and affordable alternative.
“Historically, rural healthcare has been worse than urban healthcare because there are more doctors available in cities,” Stein said. “If you can use technology to separate the physical location from the quality of care, rural patients will benefit.”
“Alexa, how can you help my practice?”
Continuity of care based on the data collected by smart speakers can improve both patient outcomes and financial efficiency for healthcare facilities. One noteworthy financial improvement can be keeping patients engaged within the network, improving in-network referrals and potentially reducing patient leakage.
“Keeping a patient within the same healthcare organization not only improves efficiency and financial performance, it ensures that the patient will receive better care because there is a continuous record accessible to their care team.,” McClintock said. “This record can include their time inside the facility, or their conversations with Alexa at home.”
Thanks to artificial intelligence, clinicians’ reach can be extended beyond their physical presence. AI presents additional opportunities to provide better help with an affordable cost structure.
“It takes the number of clinical experts that exist and allows them to have greater reach,” Stein said.
“Alexa, is my data really safe?”
In order to embrace smart speakers and artificial intelligence in a healthcare context, patients and providers both have to trust that private data stays private. Is that something Amazon can guarantee?
“The answer is yes, because of the BAA [Business Associate Agreement] and HIPAA policies that Amazon has in place,” McClintock said. “Amazon captures their data in an extremely secure manner. Just because smart speakers are now being used for health applications does not mean that the information is any less secure.”
In order to become HIPAA compliant, businesses must assess security risks and prove they have developed the appropriate technical safeguards. While Amazon’s encryption may be airtight, Stein says it will take time for the public to feel confident that their information is secure.
“Trust is a more difficult hurdle to clear than technical security,” Stein said.
Despite the initial qualms that come with smart speaker and AI tech in the healthcare industry, Stein and McClintock are confident that change is coming.
“It definitely is the future, because we see AI in so many portable and wearable devices today,” McClintock said. “The more healthcare can tap into it, the better care is going to be.”
“The healthcare industry has been notoriously slow to adopt technology,” Stein said. “That has not been the case for advanced analytics and artificial intelligence - healthcare is an early adopter of AI. The complexity of healthcare makes it inherently difficult to automate. AI is one of the first technologies that has been able to match that level of complexity.”
“Alexa, what should I do now?”
Healthcare organizations curious about integrating smart speaker technology into their systems might be uncertain about where to begin.
Our healthcare team at Saxony Partners has the capability to build Alexa skills for our clients. As long-time consultants in the healthcare industry, we are comfortable with HIPAA compliance and secure data storage principles.
“Saxony fits into this world perfectly because we are experts when it comes to data analytics, artificial intelligence, and process automation,” McClintock said. “This is a massive opportunity to improve processes outside the four walls of a facility that has never been done before. The sooner that organizations realize the implications for care and communication with their patients, the impacts will be evident in the healthcare world.”
“It’s the intersection of what we do best: custom application development, secure data storage, and advanced data analytics,” Stein said.
The next voice command for healthcare organizations who want to integrate AI? “Alexa, call Saxony Partners.”