Amazon's Alexa Is Now HIPAA-Compliant. Here's What That Means for Healthcare Marketers.


New developments from Amazon show that voice assistants are becoming increasingly important for healthcare.

Voice assistants are revolutionizing the way consumers interact with technology. Using Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Home, or Microsoft Cortana, people can accomplish more and more hands-free by simply talking to their devices.

Now these developments are beginning to hit healthcare. For the first time, Amazon has introduced a range of HIPAA-compliant healthcare services on its Alexa platform. As these apps roll out, medical marketers should be ready to adapt in order to reach the increasing number of patients who rely on voice assistants.

Amazon Gets Serious About Healthcare Apps

Alexa already has over a thousand health and fitness services in its app store, but they focus on giving users basic help with diet, exercise, sleep hygiene, and relaxation techniques. Without HIPAA compliance, the apps were barred from transmitting personal, confidential health information.

In April 2019, Amazon rolled out the first set of Alexa voice apps that follow HIPAA regulations. These apps allow patients to check the status of prescriptions, schedule appointments at urgent-care centers, keep track of blood sugar readings, provide post-treatment survey feedback, and even earn benefits for reaching personal health goals.

Developed by health systems, insurers, and digital health companies, Alexa’s new skills promise unprecedented convenience for consumers. Tasks that previously required long telephone calls or navigating clunky online portals can now be accomplished by merely saying a few words to a device that’s already in the living room.

Although the initial apps are part of an invite-only pilot program, similar ones are certain to proliferate. Amazon has already made news by teaming up with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway in an ambitious initiative to lower healthcare costs. The fact that Amazon has decided to make Alexa HIPAA compliant – no easy task in the highly regulated health-privacy arena – only confirms that the company is serious about establishing a footprint in the health sector.

How Healthcare Providers Can Adapt

Several hospitals and health systems are already using Alexa to improve the patient experience. For instance, Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has installed Amazon devices in hospital rooms. Patients can ask Alexa when their doctor will arrive, find out what’s for lunch, or summon a nurse. Similarly, at New York’s Northwell Health, patients can ask Alexa to check ER and urgent care wait times and then select the location with the shortest wait.

The spread of voice assistants also means that healthcare marketers need to rethink their strategies to reach patients on these new platforms. In the long run, this means developing voice apps for Google, Apple, and Amazon. In the short term, however, there are some simple techniques marketers can use to succeed in the voice sector.

Search engine optimization is key. According to one report, voice searches are likely to account for half of all searches by 2020. Crucially, SEO works differently for voice than it does in a conventional search engine. In mobile or desktop search, users generally type individual words or short phrases. With voice, however, users are more likely to put their queries in the form of a question. Writing content in a natural, conversational tone is therefore more effective than embedding particular keywords.

In particular, FAQs are a great way to take advantage of voice search. Medical marketers can try to anticipate the questions patients will ask, and then answer them directly on their website. Take, for example, a search like, “How are cataracts treated?” An FAQ page with that exact phrasing will likely rank high in search results.

Voice assistants rely heavily on location-based search. This means that queries like, “Where can I find a cardiologist?” will be answered with results relevant to the device’s location. It’s also important to make sure a practice is listed in online business directories so that it will rank in voice searches.

Knowledge of these marketing strategies will pay dividends when it comes to navigating the brave new world of voice assistants. By embracing voice technology, HCPs can tap into new patient demographics and drive valuable traffic to their websites.

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