Recently, Amazon began delving into the health care sector. Alexa, its flagship home communication device (and assistant), is now able to send patient data to a doctor. This can include questions as well as vital statistics for proper monitoring. While this could improve care at home for millions of Americans, there are still a number of unanswered questions that need to be addressed.
One of the main driving forces for the development of telehealth technology is the rising cost of health care. If more people were able to receive adequate care at home, it is theorized this could reduce healthcare costs overall while also improving quality of life for many of these patients.
However, privacy is a major consideration that needs to be addressed when it comes to sharing of medical information over these networks. Amazon, Google, and many other online services save and track customer information. Amazon, for example, is using simple inquiries and requests from Alexa users to specifically target advertising. By listening in all the time, what would Amazon or Google do with personal, medical information that is protected by law?
Another factor is the cost of these services. While these devices are intended to help increase the reach of home care for millions of Americans, the cost of using some of them may be higher than anticipated.
As noted in the Yahoo! News published blog, Alexa Is Gaining Medical Skills. Why That Could Be Bad for Health Care, written by Elisabeth Rosenthal:
“But it remains an open question whether virtual medicine will prove a valuable, convenient adjunct to health care. Or, instead, will it be a way for the U.S. profit-driven health care system to make big bucks by outsourcing core duties—while providing a paler version of actual medical treatment?
After all, my doctors have long answered my questions and dispensed phone and email advice for free—as part of our doctor-patient relationship—though it didn’t have a cool branding moniker like telehealth. And my obstetrician’s office offered great support and advice through two difficult pregnancies—maybe they should have been paid for that valuable service. But $235 for a phone call (which works out to over $2000 per hour)? Not even a corporate lawyer bills that.”
While telehealth becomes an increasingly vital component in home and health care, it will remain a crucial consideration about where companies draw the line on ‘listening in’ to their customers’ conversations. Also, one of the driving factors in the growth of home care is seeking to reduce health care costs at home, but if these devices make telehealth unaffordable, it may ultimately become moot.