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Hey Alexa, open Providence Health Connect; former Amazon exec gives health provider head start in voice bot technology for Spokane-area patients

UPDATED: Fri., April 5, 2019

Providence Health Care’s partnership with Amazon Alexa smart home technology will allow users to schedule appointments with urgent care locations.
Providence Health Care’s partnership with Amazon Alexa smart home technology will allow users to schedule appointments with urgent care locations.

You can ask her for the forecast or to play your favorite band. She’ll set a timer or tell you dad jokes. Beginning in mid-April, Alexa will even schedule your doctor’s appointment.

Providence St. Joseph and the parent company of Providence Health Care partnered with Alexa Health and Wellness to offer patients the option of scheduling Express Care visits through the popular smart home device.

Once launched, Alexa users can use a new command: “Alexa, open Providence Health Connect.” Alexa will tell the user where their nearest clinic is, and from there ask if they would like to make an appointment.

Before coming to Providence, Aaron Martin, Providence St. Joseph Health executive vice president and chief digital officer, worked as an Amazon executive. He was in contact with Missy Krasner, head of Alexa Health and Wellness.

“We’ve always been in conversations with her, and one day she let us know they were working on a HIPAA skill, and would we be interested in working with them on that, and we we’re like, this is great,” Martin said. “We jumped in with both feet.”

Martin said this is just the beginning. He hopes that as the program grows, Providence will be able to implement new Alexa skills — a great application would be clinicians using voice within the office.

“It’d be better from a hygiene standpoint if they don’t have to touch a surface, and yet still get access to information and still be able to direct the computer to take an action,” Martin said. “I think voice is going to be super important in the future.”

Providing education for patients is another possibility for the future.

“A physician, instead of saying, ‘Hey, let’s go and pull up this article, or this video, that I want to you to take a look at about the condition that you’ve got,’ you can basically just ask one of these voice bots, ‘Show the video about carpal tunnel syndrome,’ ” Martin said.

Because the Alexa program needed to follow privacy laws, a voice passcode must be set up to use the service.

“It is protected information because we don’t want anybody to know that you’ve set up an appointment at Express Care,” Martin said. “That’s just your own personal information, so why should anybody else get access to it?”

Providence is already offering services through the digital platform, including a website that provides estimated wait times for hospitals and urgent care providers, as well as a service for virtual appointments through live video chat.

Alexa’s partnership with Providence is one of six new healthcare skills Amazon announced in a blog post on Thursday, including partnerships with the prescription service Express Scripts, Cigna Health Today, My Children’s Enhanced Recovery After Surgery, Atrium Health and Livongo.

“Our goal is to experiment with it and learn about it, so that we can figure out how we can use that in combination with the other tools that we’ve got to kind of make patient care better and easier,” Martin said.

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