Health

Cedars-Sinai, Houston Methodist, Introduce New Amazon Tools

Amazon on Monday unveiled a new voice offering for hospitals and healthcare systems, which represents another step in propelling the Seattle healthcare tech giant.

Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa next month will offer apps designed for patients to use while in hospital as part of Alexa Smart Properties, a unit that sells Alexa devices and voice tools to property owners for deployment and centralized management across their organizations. This includes apartments, hotels and living quarters for the elderly.

BayCare in Tampa, Florida; Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles; and Houston Methodist are among healthcare systems adopting Alexa Smart Properties tools.

The new offering grew out of Amazon’s work with hospitals and healthcare systems during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Liron Torres, global leader of Alexa Smart Properties.

In particular, at the onset of the pandemic, healthcare organizations installed Alexa devices in patient rooms so that patients can communicate with staff without being in the same room with each other – reducing physical contact and reducing the number of times doctors may need to put on and take off personal protective equipment. … during a shortage of such materials.

“Initially when [hospitals] reached out to us, we included the solution in the COVID wards, Torres told Modern Healthcare. “Both the patients and the staff liked it very much.”

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The new offering adds to an expanding list of Amazon’s healthcare efforts, including Amazon Care, a healthcare service it sells to employers’ health insurance plans, and Amazon Pharmacy, a business that allows customers to purchase prescriptions delivered directly to their homes. Last year, the company introduced a wearable health tracking device called the Amazon Halo.

Alexa is playing a key role in Amazon’s efforts to mediate in trying to connect consumers with traditional healthcare organizations in more convenient ways.

Amazon in 2019 released the Alexa pharmacy app that allowed patients to manage their medications and replenish prescriptions. In the same year, the company opened a program for healthcare systems, insurance companies and companies to create their own voice applications that process patient data through Alexa, while adhering to HIPAA compliance.

Several health plans have launched programs that allow members to request information using voice assistants, including Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices.

While voice assistants have the ability to simplify access to medical information, some researchers question how accurately they can analyze patient requests. May study published in the journal The frontiers of digital health found that Google Assistant outperforms Apple’s Alexa and Siri in recognizing popular generics and brand name drugs.

With the new Alexa functionality, hospital and healthcare managers can deploy voice applications to Alexa devices in their organizations, giving patients access to tools that allow them to call nurses, control devices in their ward, and request information about the facility, such as how to order food or see the cafeteria menu.

This is in part due to connectivity to communications systems such as Vocera and Aiva Health, according to Amazon, which are already in use in the organization.

“This is a game changer for improving our hospital’s operations,” said Peachy Hein, Cedars-Sinai Executive Director of Medical and Surgical Services, in a press release. “Patients can use Alexa to connect with their care team and be entertained as soon as they move in, while healthcare providers can streamline tasks to spend more time caring for these patients.”

Torres declined to provide specific pricing details for the proposal, but said the cost would depend on the size of the deployment and what tools the organization uses.

Most of the apps that the patient will use through the Alexa Smart Properties offering are anonymous, which means the patient’s identity is not related to interaction, Torres said. In cases where patient identity is important – for example, for instruments that track a patient’s medications – hospitals will develop their own instruments using Alexa program for HIPAA compliant applications


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