Amazon on Tuesday unveiled what the company hopes will be the first step in a broader effort to let patients manage their medications using Alexa.
The company's voice assistant is a cornerstone of the tech giant's push into the healthcare sector. This past spring Seattle-based Amazon launched an invite-only program for healthcare companies—including hospitals and health insurers—to develop skills that transmit protected health information through the voice assistant while meeting HIPAA compliance.
The new skill, a collaboration between Amazon and medication-management company Omnicell, was built as part of that program.
Amazon partnered with supermarket and pharmacy chain Giant Eagle for the skill's initial launch. Customers of the chain, which has more than 200 pharmacy locations in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic, are now able to review their current prescriptions, set reminders to take medications and request prescription refills through the new Alexa feature.
Amazon developed the medication-management skill based on customer feedback, wrote Rachel Jiang, head of the Alexa health and wellness team at Amazon, in a blog post Tuesday.
"We noticed a trend: many customers were using Alexa to remind them to take medications on a regular basis," she wrote. "We believe this new Alexa feature will help simplify the way people manage their medication by removing the need to continuously think about what medications they've taken that day or what they need to take."
The voice skill is meant to simplify prescription management for users who are taking multiple medications a day, as well as to help seniors who are opting to age at home independently manage their care.
That's a significant portion of the population, as about half of adults in the U.S. report taking prescription drugs. By some estimates, between $100 billion and $300 billion of avoidable healthcare costs are attributed to patients not taking medications as prescribed.
"This new technology is just the beginning, as we continue to identify straightforward and easy-to-use pharmacy tasks that voice-powered devices can perform in the real world to keep the patient at the center of care and streamline pharmacy workflow," Danny Sanchez, Omnicell's vice president and general manager of population health solutions, said in Amazon's blog post.
To ensure only the correct customer can access their prescription information, Alexa verifies users by both their voice and a pass code created during the registration process.
It's still "day one" for Alexa in healthcare, Jiang wrote. Amazon plans to partner with more pharmacies to launch medication-management features in 2020.
"We'll learn a lot from this initial launch, and we'll continue to evolve the experience and expect to expand to additional pharmacies next year," she wrote.