Alexa, the Amazon virtual assistant increasingly found in senior living communities across the country, now is capable of transmitting and receiving protected health information, Amazon announced Thursday. Its new HIPAA-compliant status means that operators and residents alike may find more reasons to use the device.

The company has been working with six organizations  — including two parent organizations of senior living and supportive housing providers — as part of the invitation-only program in which they develop “skills” that let users issue voice commands to Alexa to complete tasks such as checking the status of home delivery of a prescription, scheduling medical appointments, looking up their blood glucose readings and blood glucose measurement trends, and managing health improvement goals.

“These skills are just the first step in making it easier for customers to manage their healthcare needs using just their voice,” Rachel Jiang wrote in a post on an Amazon website announcing the launch of a “skills kit” for HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates. “We’re excited to see what developers build next.”

One of the six companies involved in the program is Atrium Health (formerly Carolinas HealthCare System), with a care continuum that includes nursing homes, home healthcare and hospice and palliative care. For now, according to Amazon, the Atrium Health skill’s focus is on helping customers in North Carolina and South Carolina locate an urgent care location near them and schedule same-day appointments.

When asked whether Atrium Health plans to develop a skill for long-term care, a spokeswoman for the organization told McKnight’s Senior Living: “Atrium Health is committed to expanding the use of voice technology everywhere — at home, in the hospital, at the doctor’s office. Our guide will be to find the best places that make accessing and managing healthcare easier. We haven’t targeted any one population yet but are looking at all areas.”

Another of the six companies is Providence St. Joseph Health, a health system that includes Providence Health & Services, which operates eight independent and assisted living communities in four states; 13 nursing homes and transitional care facilities in four states; two California skilled nursing facilities operated by affiliate Facey Medical Group; and supportive housing for older adults, disabled individuals and others in three states.

Through the health system’s Swedish Health Connect skill, customers can find urgent care centers near them and schedule same-day appointments.

Additional companies with skills in the Amazon program are Express Scripts, Cigna Health Today, My Children’s Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (Boston Children’s Hospital) and Livongo.

“In the future, we expect to enable additional developers to take advantage of this capability,” Jiang wrote.

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