- The telehealth company Teladoc will provide virtual healthcare services through Amazon’s Alexa.
- Consumers will be able to ask Alexa for nonemergency medical assistance and be put in touch with a Teladoc healthcare professional.
- Teladoc officials say there are systems in place with the service to protect consumers’ privacy.
- Experts say this new service is part of a growing trend toward virtual healthcare.
“Alexa, I want to talk to a doctor.”
That’s how a person will be able to connect to a doctor around the clock using Teladoc and Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa.
Teladoc officials announced that their telehealth company is teaming up with Amazon to offer the service, first via audio only. Eventually, the company says it plans to have video virtual visits through Alexa.
Teladoc officials say customers will have to create an Alexa ID and grant permission before connecting with a Teladoc call center. They can then expect a call back from a board certified doctor at Teladoc for diagnosis of a cold, flu, COVID-19, or nonmedical emergencies.
The cost could be nothing per visit if you have insurance that covers the services or $75 without insurance.
Natalie Schibell, a senior healthcare analyst at Forrester, says the move is not surprising. It follows a trend that began emerging after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What the pandemic did was it really trained everyone to have everything at their fingertips. So now, healthcare companies have to stay relevant and competitive,” Schibell told Healthline.
“Telehealth is convenient. The average wait time to get an appointment with a primary care doctor is 20 days. A referral to a specialist is about another 20 days. So that’s 40 days. This is a way for individuals to get a physician quickly for basic needs, nothing that’s an emergency” she said.
Amazon has already expanded its own foray into telehealth with Amazon Care.
Teladoc is already a leading telehealth company.
And an estimated 40 million people in the United States have Amazon Alexa.
Schibell says the companies each have something the other needs.
“Consumers want the same convenience they see in the retail industry in healthcare. It’s exploding on a grand scale” Schibell said. “Amazon has convenient technology, but doesn’t have enough providers. So, they go with Teladoc, one of the leading telehealth providers, to make this happen.”
What about the privacy concerns that have surrounded the use of Alexa?
In a statement to Healthline, a Teladoc spokesperson wrote:
“Amazon cannot access, record, or store the content of your conversations with Teladoc. Alexa only logs that a call took place, not what health information was discussed during the call. And all of your telehealth interactions with Alexa — such as your requests to speak with a doctor — will be redacted in your voice history. Any protected health information you share with Teladoc will be handled pursuant to
Ahmed Banafa, PhD, a professor and expert on cybersecurity at San Jose State University in California, says the industry is heavily regulated by federal authorities for practices such as HIPAA-compliant data transfers.
“Alexa is HIPAA compliant, so the info is secure and follows the guidelines of HIPAA,” Banafa told Healthline. “Keep in mind that this is a starting point for Amazon to establish its name in a $3.5 trillion health sector of the economy.”
Banafa says adding the video component may expand what information can be transmitted.
“We already have devices that can check your heart performance, oxygen level. Maybe we will have sensors in the future or cameras that will scan the whole body and send it back to the doctors from home,” he said. “This could save hospitals and insurance companies tons of money in reducing face-to-face visits.”
“This is the trend going forward… Care concierge at your fingertips,” said Schibell.
She cites sweeping healthcare staff shortages, the increase in the number of older adults needing healthcare, and chronic conditions. She says telehealth is important to give consumers more choices and greater access. But she says there are potential problems.
“In terms of public health, I’m a little concerned about disruptive care, and about duplicating care,” Schibell said. “Maybe people are getting duplicate prescriptions. Or one provider is prescribing one course of treatment, especially in the case of mental health, and then the patient goes somewhere else and gets a different course of treatment.”