Amazon will no longer support HIPAA compliance on its Alexa devices after launching a program three years ago for some hospitals and payers.
In April 2019, Amazon paved the way for Alexa to be used in healthcare when it announced its Amazon Alexa HIPAA-compliant skills kit for developers. The announcement paved the way for developers to build voice skills that can securely transmit private patient health information.
Amazon invited a select group of healthcare organizations to build HIPAA-compliant apps, or "skills," to access patients' protected health information via Alexa devices.
When the program launched, Atrium Health, Boston Children’s Hospital, Cigna, Express Scripts, Livongo (now owned by Teladoc) and Swedish Health Connect all announced Amazon Alexa voice tools that enabled patients to do things like check prescriptions and schedule doctor visits using voice technology.
Out of those six, only the Express Scripts and Boston Children's Hospital apps remained live on Amazon's site as of Dec. 8.
At the time, Amazon was the only company offering a HIPAA-compliant voice assistant device option for third-party developers.
The tech giant is now no longer supporting Alexa 3P HIPAA-eligible skills.
"We regularly review our experiences to ensure we are investing in services that will delight customers. We are continuing to invest heavily in developing healthcare experiences with first and third party developers, including Alexa Smart Properties for Healthcare," an Amazon spokesperson told Fierce Healthcare.
The change was first reported by Voicebot.ai. In a letter obtained by the publication, Amazon said the service will no longer be supported as of Dec. 9.
As of next week, there will be no general-purpose voice assistant that independent developers can use to build voice experiences if HIPAA-eligible data can be collected, according to Voicebot.ai.
Healthcare-related Alexa skills developed by third parties in the U.S. that do not collect individually identifiable health information will not be impacted by the changes.
Amazon is not ending all HIPAA support. HIPAA-eligible skills can only be developed using support from first-party resources, according to reporting from Voicebot.ai.
The HIPAA Alexa skill feature is also now under the Alexa Smart Properties for Healthcare business unit, a division that sells Alexa devices and voice tools to providers and helps them deploy and manage Alexa enabled-devices at scale.
That program started in 2019 as part of a broader effort to embed Amazon's voice technology deeper into clinical settings. That service builds on pilot projects deployed at several hospitals in 2019, an initiative that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Florida-based BayCare Health System piloted the technology at two hospitals in 2019 and then in January 2021 announced plans to deploy Amazon Alexa devices in 2,500 rooms across its 14 hospitals.
Also in 2019, Cedars-Sinai piloted Amazon Alexa devices in more than 100 patient rooms to enable patients to interact hands-free with nurses and control their entertainment.
Alexa Smart Properties tools and application programming interfaces are designed to make it easy for solution providers to manage and service a fleet of Alexa-enabled devices quickly, remotely and at scale, Liron Torres, global leader of Alexa Smart Properties, told Fierce Healthcare last year.
Several payers, such as UPMC Health Plan and Anthem, also developed virtual concierge features that enable plan members to use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant devices for answers about insurance coverage or to order a new ID card.
The reshuffling of priorities for the Alexa business comes as the Amazon Alexa voice assistant unit loses favor with the e-commerce giant. Amazon's voice assistant, once one of its most quickly growing projects, is now one of its products on pace to lose the company around $10 billion this year, Business Insider reported.
The move also comes as Amazon continues to shift its healthcare strategy. The company announced in August that it would shutter its hybrid health service Amazon Care at the end of the year.
Three months later, it rolled out a new virtual medical clinic called Amazon Clinic that aims to treat common conditions like allergies, hair loss and skin conditions.
The company made its first move into healthcare when it bought online pharmacy PillPack in 2018 and then later launched it as Amazon Pharmacy. Amazon plans to buy primary care provider One Medical for $3.9 billion, and that deal will add 188 medical clinics in 29 markets.