Amazon’s Alexa: A Digital Doctor or Just a Fun Technological Toy?
In 10 years, you may be heading to Amazon.com for a lot more than shopping. There may be a future Amazon Pharmacy where you can get prescriptions as well as see a virtual pharmacist. Amazon’s Alexa, the voice-controlled personal assistant system, could take over these roles.
In addition to the Amazon Echo smart speaker and other devices, Alexa allows the user to speak to it. Alexa can handle tasks like playing songs, podcasts, and audiobooks, getting news, weather and traffic reports, setting alarms, making to-do lists, and more.
In the News
Over the past few months, I’ve seen growing speculation online that Amazon is planning a big move into the healthcare space.
In late July, CNBC ran a series of stories detailing a secret operation at the online retail giant. An assembly of a research and development team called “1492” created digital healthcare applications. These applications could be targeted at streamlining electronic health records and telemedicine to more easily connect doctors with their patients.
The online retail giant began to dip its toe in the waters of healthcare in 2016. This is when Amazon acquired wholesale pharmacy licenses in a dozen states in order to sell medical supplies to businesses.
So what’s next?
Will we one day be triaged by Alexa before we even get to see a nurse?
Some hospitals, like Boston Children’s, have already started experimenting with “virtual assistants.” Amazon’s voice-recognition software system aids them in everything from answering questions and pulling up medical records to snapping photos in the operating room, according to a report from STATNews.com.
While there’s no doubt voice-recognition software may be helpful in some scenarios at a hospital, it’s important to leave medicine to the professionals.
Technological advancements are exciting, but they don’t come without their caveats. The excessive computerization of medicine is a trend that is not necessarily improving outcomes. In fact, it may create more administrative work for medical staff.
Take, for example, electronic medical records (EMRs). I would argue that EMRs are essentially the gateway for tech companies looking to get involved in healthcare. But, over the years, studies have shown mixed reviews on whether or not EMRs actually improve outcomes. As it turns out, they may not be the cost-cutting cure-all the healthcare industry so desperately needs.
Should you give Amazon keys to your home?
As a practicing physician, the thought of one day working for the department of obstetrics and gynecology for the Amazon Medical Center is a bitter pill to swallow.
I know, I know, I’m not as hip as the millennials – the ones we have to thank for this new age of tech visionaries. And by doing so, feeding the growing online retail behemoth that continues to put small businesses out of business.
Believe it or not, I still like to talk to people, read hardcover books, play records, and go to my local drug store to have a conversation with my pharmacist. I know these are all crazy, outdated ideas.
However, allowing Amazon to get between doctors and their patients may not necessarily improve medicine. Not to mention, it will spell the end of private practice as we know it.