Diamandis, who also founded Singularity University, a global learning and innovation community that uses exponential technologies to tackle worldwide challenges, according to its website, said, “We’re going to see Apple and Amazon and Google and all the data-driven companies that are in our homes right now become our healthcare providers.”
If this prediction becomes reality, it will bring significant changes in the traditional ways that consumers and patients have selected providers and access healthcare services. In turn, this will require all clinical laboratories and pathology groups to develop business strategies in response to these developments.
Amazon Arrives in Healthcare Markets
Several widely-publicized business initiatives by Amazon, Google, and Apple substantiate these predictions. According to an Amazon blog, healthcare insurers, providers, and pharmacy benefit managers are already operating HIPAA-eligible Amazon Alexa for:
Alexa also enables HIPAA-compliant blood glucose updates as part of the Livongo for Diabetes program. “Our members now have the ability to hear their last blood glucose check by simply asking Alexa,” said Jennifer Schneider, MD, President of Livongo, a digital health company, in a news release.
And Cigna’s “Answers By Cigna” Alexa “skill” gives members who install the option responses to 150 commonly asked health insurance questions, explained a Cigna news release.
The Apple Watch health app also enables people to access medical laboratory test results and vaccination records, and “sync up” information with some hospitals, Business Insider explained.
Virtual Care, a Payer Priority: Survey
Should healthcare providers feel threatened by the tech giants? Not necessarily. However, employers and payers surveyed by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), an employer advocacy organization, said they want to see more virtual care solutions, a news release stated.
“One of the challenges employers face in managing their healthcare costs is that healthcare is delivered locally, and change is not scalable. It’s a market-by-market effort,” said Brian Marcotte, President and CEO of the NBGH, in the news release. “Employers are turning to market-specific solutions to drive meaningful changes in the healthcare delivery system.
“Virtual care solutions bring healthcare to the consumer
rather than the consumer to healthcare,” Marcotte continue. “They continue to
gain momentum as employers seek different ways to deliver cost effective,
quality healthcare while improving access and the consumer experience.”
“If you use Google in the United States to check symptoms,
you’ll get five-million to 11-million hits,” Schwab told The Dark Report.
“Clearly, there’s plenty of talk about symptom checkers, and if you go online
now, you’ll find 350 different electronic applications that will give you
medical advice—meaning you’ll get a diagnosis over the internet. These
applications are winding their way somewhere through the regulatory process.
“The FDA just released a report saying it plans to regulate
internet doctors, not telehealth doctors and not virtual doctors,” he
continued. “Instead, they’re going to regulate machines. This news is
significant because, today, within an hour of receiving emergency care, 45% of
Americans have googled their condition, so the cat is out of the bag as it
pertains to us going online for our medical care.”
Be Proactive, Not Reactive, Health Leaders Say
Healthcare leaders need to work on improving access to primary care, instead of becoming defensive or reactive to tech companies, several healthcare CEOs told Becker’s Hospital Review.
Clinical laboratory leaders are advised to keep an eye on
these virtual healthcare trends and be open to assisting doctors engaged in
telehealth services and online diagnostic activities.
Since Alexa is now programed to be compliant with HIPAA privacy rules, it’s likely similar voice assistance technologies will soon become available in US healthcare as well
Shortages of physicians and other types of caregivers—including
laboratory workers—in the United Kingdom (UK) has the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) seeking alternate
ways to get patients needed health and medical information. This has prompted a
partnership with Amazon to use the Alexa virtual assistant to
answer patients healthcare inquiries.
Here in the United States, pathologists and clinical
laboratory executives should take the time to understand this development.
The fact that the NHS is willing to use a device like Alexa to help it maintain
access to services expected by patients in the United Kingdom shows how rapidly
the concept of “virtual clinical care” is moving to become mainstream.
If the NHS can make it work in a health system serving 66-million
people, it can be expected that health insurers, hospitals, and physicians in
the United States will follow that example and deploy similar virtual health
services to their patients.
For these reasons, all clinical laboratories and anatomic
pathology groups will want to develop a strategy as to how their
organizations will interact with virtual health services and how their labs
will want to deploy similar virtual patient information services.
Critical Shortages in Healthcare Services
While virtual assistants have
been answering commonly-asked health questions by mining popular responses on
the Internet for some time, this new agreement allows Alexa to provide
government-endorsed medical advice drawn from the NHS website.
By doing this, the NHS hopes to reduce the burden on
healthcare workers by making it easier for UK patients to access health
information and receive answers to commonly-asked health questions directly from
their homes, GeekWire
“The public needs to be able to get reliable information
about their health easily and in ways they actually use. By working closely
with Amazon and other tech companies, big and small, we can ensure that the
millions of users looking for health information every day can get simple,
validated advice at the touch of a button or voice command,” Matthew Gould, CEO of NHSX, a division of the NHS that focuses
on digital initiatives, told GeekWire.
Verge reported that when the British government officially announced
the partnership in a July press
release, the sample questions that Alexa could answer included:
Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?
Alexa, what are the symptoms of the flu?
Alexa, what are the symptoms of chickenpox?
“We want to empower every patient to take better control of
their healthcare and technology like this is a great example of how people can
access reliable, world-leading NHS advice from the comfort of their home,
reducing the pressure on our hardworking GPs (General Practitioners) and
pharmacists,” said Matt
Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the press release.
Connect notes that the NHS provides healthcare services free of charge to
more than 66-million individuals residing in the UK. With 1.2 million
employees, the NHS is the largest employer in Europe, according to The
Economist. That article also stated that the biggest problem facing the
NHS is a staff shortage, citing research conducted by three independent
Their findings indicate “that NHS hospitals, mental-health
providers, and community services have 100,000 vacancies, and that there are
another 110,000 gaps in adult social care. If things stay on their current
trajectory, the think-tanks predict that there will be 250,000 NHS vacancies in
a decade,” The Economist reported.
“However,” she continued, “it is vital that independent
research is done to ensure that the advice given is safe, otherwise it could
prevent people seeking proper medical help and create even more pressure on our
overstretched GP service.”
Amazon has assured consumers that all data obtained by Alexa
through the NHS partnership will be encrypted to ensure privacy and security,
MD Connect notes. Amazon also promised that the personal information will not
be shared or sold to third parties.
Alexa Now HIPAA Compliant in the US
This new agreement with the UK follows the announcement in April
of a new Alexa
Skills Kit that “enables select Covered Entities and their Business
Associates, subject to the US Health
Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), to build
Alexa skills that transmit and receive protected
health information (PHI) as part of an invite-only program. Six new Alexa
healthcare skills from industry-leading healthcare providers, payors, pharmacy
benefit managers, and digital health coaching companies are now operating in
our HIPAA-eligible environment.”
Developers of voice assistance technologies can freely use
these Alexa skills, which are “designed to help customers manage a variety of
healthcare needs at home simply using voice—whether it’s booking a medical
appointment, accessing hospital post-discharge instructions, checking on the
status of a prescription delivery, and more,” an Amazon
Developer Alexa blog states.
The blog lists the HIPAA-compliant Alexa skills as:
Scripts: Members can check the status of a home delivery prescription and can
request Alexa notifications when their prescription orders are shipped.
Health Today by Cigna (NYSE:CI): Eligible employees with one of Cigna’s
large national accounts can now manage their health improvement goals and
increase opportunities for earning personalized wellness incentives.
Health, a healthcare system with more than 40 hospitals and 900 care
locations throughout North and South Carolina and Georgia: Customers in North
and South Carolina can find an urgent care location near them and schedule a
a digital health company that creates new and different experiences for people
with chronic conditions: Members can query their last blood sugar reading,
blood sugar measurement trends, and receive insights and Health Nudges that are
personalized to them.
HIPAA Journal notes: “This is not the first time that Alexa skills have been developed, but a stumbling block has been the requirements of HIPAA Privacy Rules, which limit the use of voice technology with protected health information. Now, thanks to HIPAA compliant data transfers, the voice assistant can be used by a select group of healthcare organizations to communicate PHI without violating the HIPAA Privacy Rule.”
Steady increases associated with the costs of medical care
combined with a shortage of healthcare professionals on both continents are
driving trends that motivate government health programs and providers to
experiment with non-traditional ways to interact with patients.
New digital and Artificial
Intelligence (AI) tools like Alexa may continue to emerge as methods for
providing care—including clinical laboratory and pathology advice—to healthcare