Amazon rolls out Alexa feature that lets users ask about prescription drugs

Consumers can now ask Amazon Alexa about the side effects of certain drugs.

Amazon is rolling out detailed medication information as a new feature of its Alexa device in partnership with First Databank. The San Francisco-based company is a major provider of drug and medical device databases. 

The initiative signals the tech giant's broader effort to use the voice assistant to help consumers manage their medications.

In November, Amazon teamed up with pharmacy chain Giant Eagle to launch medication reminders as a new feature of its Alexa device. That feature also was developed in collaboration with medication management company Omnicell.

Combined with the partnership with FDB, consumers now have access to a wide variety of drug information through simple queries via any Alexa-enabled device, the companies said. Consumers can ask about a drug’s effects such as drug interactions, side effects, precautions and the drug’s class through Amazon Alexa, which will tap into FDB's drug information, the companies said.

Information will be provided to Alexa customers in both English and Spanish and will be updated regularly.

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Some common questions consumers can ask Amazon Alexa include: "Alexa, what type of drug is ibuprofen?" about the painkiller, or "Alexa, what are the side effects of sertraline?" which treats depression.

The partnership leverages clinical drug information authored specifically for Alexa by FDB clinicians based on their review of the most relevant content from the company’s proprietary consumer drug information monographs, the companies said.

“We are thrilled to be working closely with Amazon on this unique consumer use of our drug knowledge,” said Bob Katter, FDB's president.

Voice technology tools such as Amazon Alexa provide a simple way to get helpful information about medications including side effects and drug interactions to consumers.

"This information will complement advice from their medical and pharmacy teams. Ultimately, we believe that more informed consumers will lead to improved medication adherence, the reduction of adverse drug events, and better patient outcomes," Katter said.

RELATED: Amazon Web Services launches Transcribe Medical speech recognition service for clinicians

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 tech giant's ambitions in healthcare also include developing clinical speech recognition. It's one of many areas in which Amazon is competing with Microsoft and Google.

Microsoft is collaborating with Nuance Communications to develop technology to "listen" to physician-patient conversations and automatically document in an electronic health record. Stanford University is working with Google on a digital scribe pilot project to use voice assistants during patient encounters.

In December, Amazon Web Services announced the launch of Amazon Transcribe Medical to convert clinician and patient speech to text.

In 2018, AWS rolled out Amazon Comprehend Medical, a machine learning tool that pulls out medically relevant information such as patient diagnoses, symptoms, medical test details, treatments and dosages while simultaneously highlighting any protected health information. That tool allows developers to process unstructured medical text.