HIMSS23: Amazon launches new features for hospitals using Alexa devices

CHICAGO—While the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society's global conference used to be the domain of health IT vendors, tech giants also are getting into the action as they expand their reach into healthcare.

At HIMSS23 on Monday, Amazon announced a new suite of features tailored for providers using Alexa-enabled experiences at scale for hospitals. 

The features are part of Alexa Smart Properties (ASP) for Healthcare, which provides device fleet management of Alexa-enabled devices to help reduce administrative burdens at hospitals.

“The opportunity for healthcare providers to leverage voice-enabled technology to modernize and evolve the patient experience is massive and we’re thrilled to offer new tools that empower developers to build solutions and services designed for the needs of patient care,” Bram Duchovnay, director of ASP, said in an announcement. “We look forward to continuing to help healthcare organizations scale Alexa-enabled solutions for their patients and medical staff.”

The latest tools announced include:

WebRTC Support: Enables patients and clinicians to conduct audio and video calls between Echo and non-Echo devices like tablets and laptops. Seamless virtual check-ins have been a popular ASP feature among providers, the company says, since they save time and PPE resources and make care teams more accessible. 

Private Branch Exchange (PBX) Support: Providers can connect ASP-supported devices with their hospitals’ phone systems for routing Alexa calls and supporting caller ID during calls between patients and clinicians. This feature helps staff know which patient is calling them to service them quicker, Amazon argues. Patients also know who is contacting them. 

WPA2 Enterprise WiFi: Will allow providers to onboard ASP-supported devices to WPA2 enterprise WiFi networks. Doing so will enable a secure connection quickly for new devices without having to create another public network.

Amazon also announced that its latest Echo Show 15 device will soon be available for healthcare. The new iteration of the device can hang naturally on the wall and features a large screen for accessibility. Its plastic and glass material can also be sanitized. 

In late 2022, Amazon shut down third-party HIPAA compliance on its Alexa devices. At the program's launch in 2019, Amazon invited a select group of healthcare organizations to build HIPAA-compliant apps, or "skills," to access patients' protected health information via Alexa devices. After closing the program, HIPAA-eligible skills could only be developed using first-party resources. As a result, the number of healthcare organizations with Amazon Alexa voice tools dropped from six to two as of December.