Amazon details custom Alexa programs for hospitals and retirement communities

Providers can manage their own version of the voice assistant through Alexa Smart Properties.

Nicole Lee/Engadget

Amazon has announced two new programs for Alexa centered around healthcare and retirement homes. Through Alexa Smart Properties, hospitals and senior living communities can run their own custom version of the voice assistant.

Retirement homes might tap into Alexa to help residents keep in contact with family and friends, stay in touch with staff, take part in activities and remain engaged with other members of the community. Staff members can use Alexa to broadcast announcements and, of course, the voice assistant can still be used for things like controlling connected devices and smart TVs.

Amazon's aim with the healthcare program is to, among other things, let staff members check in with patients without having to enter their rooms. In turn, patients can ask nurses questions, and they'll be able to respond to brief queries without having to leave their station. In addition, they can ask Alexa to play music or a podcast. As with the senior living program, care providers could use Alexa for announcements. This program builds on a 2019 pilot project at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

A version of Alexa for healthcare providers is something that Amazon has had in the works for some time. A report in 2017 suggested the company was developing hardware and software for healthcare projects, and those rumors intensified the following year. In 2019, Amazon rolled out the first HIPAA-compliant Alexa skills, which let providers help people manage prescriptions and provide blood glucose readings and tips to people with diabetes. It also has pushed into the telehealth sphere over the last couple of years.

Amazon isn't the only major tech company with an interest in the healthcare field. Microsoft invested $40 million into an AI for Health program and it announced plans earlier this year to buy speech tech company Nuance for $19.7 billion to boost its AI, cloud and healthcare ambitions.

Google, meanwhile, has worked closely with some healthcare providers. It announced plans to open an office in Rochester, Minnesota this year. The Mayo Clinic is headquartered there and the two sides plan to collaborate further.

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