Amazon rumored to start Alexa-focused 'health & wellness' team

By Laura Lovett
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After Amazon inked a deal with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to focus on employee health in January, it was clear the tech giant would be investigating the healthcare arena. However, it could be that consumers will also see Amazon’s entrance into health, as leaked documents obtained by suggest the company is building a “health & wellness” team within its Alexa voice assistant division. 

According to CNBC, the team will work to make Alexa more “useful in the healthcare field.” We can expect the group to start looking at diabetes management, care for mothers and infants, and tools for the aging population, according to CNBC’s anonymous sources. But that means Amazon will have to jump over HIPAA hurdles to ensure users’ data remains private. 

The team will be headed up by Rachel Jiang, according to CNBC report. Currently, Jiang is listed as a senior manager at Alexa Domains at Amazon on Linkedin. 

This news ins’t totally unexpected from players in the field. In April, a group of 300 healthcare stakeholders were surveyed in Venrock’s 2018 Healthcare Prognosis Survey. Here, stakeholders predicted that Amazon would make the most progress in health out of the top tech companies. 

The healthcare industry at large has been abuzz about the possibilities of what could come out of the Amazon-JP Morgan-Berkshire Hathaway partnership, which aims to create a nonprofit healthcare company with the goal of increasing user satisfaction and reducing costs. The partnership will focus on employees and their families' needs. 

Amazon’s Alexa is already being used in a number of healthcare-related ways. For example, back in September the company announced that basic health information and advice provided by the Mayo Clinic would be available on the Amazon Alexa. Users can download the Mayo Clinic First Aid skill on their device and then voice their concerns to the machine, which will give answers to dozens of everyday health issues or other self-care instructions. 

Similarly, as of March 2017, people looking for quick answers to care questions can also integrate the WebMD skill on any Alexa-enabled device. 

There have been clues Amazon was interested in diabetes support before. In the fall Seattle-based Wellpepper, a digital health patient engagement platform was announced the winner of the Alexa Diabetes Challenge for its voice-enabled diabetes support platform Sugarpod. The challenge was sponsored by Merck but supported by Amazon Web Services. 

Amazon decline to comment on the rumors citing policy.