Alexa wants to soothe your healthcare-related headaches.
Amazon's (AMZN) - Get Report virtual assistant is now eligible to use for health and wellness tasks involving patient information, the company announced recently. The new features include tracking when medications are shipped, providing information on health care benefits, booking urgent care appointments and more, according to a blog post from Rachel Jiang, head of health and wellness in Amazon's Alexa division.
The new features are HIPAA-compliant, meaning they meet the bar for the privacy and security of health information that's required of healthcare providers. And Amazon is courting developers to build new health skills for its Alexa marketplace, inviting "select skill developers" to build new capabilities in a HIPAA-compliant environment.
To build an initial set of six skills, Amazon teamed up with "industry-leading healthcare providers, payors, pharmacy benefit managers, and digital health coaching companies," according to Jiang. Those partners include Cigna Health (CI) - Get Report , Atrium Health, Boston Children's Hospital and others.
The new HIPAA-compliant skills are the latest instance of Amazon's ongoing foray into healthcare. The cloud and retain giant assembled a "health and wellness" team within its Alexa division in mid-2018, bought up the mail-order pharmacy PillPack around that time, and also formed a joint initiative with Berkshire-Hathaway (BRK.B) - Get Report and J.P. Morgan (JPM) - Get Report aimed at improving healthcare services.
For Amazon, it could be one means of differentiating its voice assistant from competitors, namely Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Report Google Home. Google has been gradually catching up to Amazon in smart speaker sales and market penetration.
However, it is not clear yet how widely the healthcare features will be adopted: According to a December 2019 survey by RBC Capital Markets, the most common tasks by Alexa users were playing music, checking the weather and setting timers, while more complex tasks such as ordering a rideshare or creating shopping lists were done by a far smaller percentage of users.
Still, Alexa's skill development, and corresponding revenue potential, is an important area for investors to watch.
RBC's Mark Mahaney forecasted that by 2021, Alexa could generate between $18 billion and $19 billion in revenue for Amazon, equivalent to approximately 5% of total revenue, through a combination of device sales, incremental revenue through voice shopping and platform revenues.
Amazon shares were up 0.27% on Monday and are up 19% year to date.