Amazon Alexa is luring health developers, but we can’t call a doctor

Luke MacGregor | Bloomberg | Getty Images

David Limp, senior vice president of devices at Amazon, in 2016.

If you want to schedule a doctor’s appointment or check on the status of a medication without picking up the phone, Amazon Alexa can help.

As of this week, the voice assistant is HIPAA compliant, which means Amazon can work with hospitals and other health providers that manage protective health data to share personal information on an Echo.

But what users can’t do yet is connect with a doctor or a therapist through the device, and it might be a few years before they can. Currently, Amazon is working with applications on an invite-only basis, and none of the initial six developers link patients with doctors.

Developers focused on digital health have concerns about using home speakers like the Echo and Google Home for medical consults because privacy issues continue to emerge and there’s too much risk in sensitive health information falling into the wrong hands. Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that thousands of employees listen in to snippets of conversations on Alexa to supposedly improve the product experience.

“It’s tricky,” said Robbie Cape, CEO of 98point6, a Seattle-based company that provides virtual medical consults via smartphones and the web. “To uphold user trust, I can imagine that Amazon Alexa would need to confirm they’re talking to the right person, but also that there’s no one else in the room listening to the conversation.”

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