Alexa arrives in hospitals, for better or for worse

After having invested in the toddler market with Amazon Kids, Alexa is now invited to American hospitals and nursing homes.

In a press release spotted by The Verge, Amazon recently launched a new program for all structures that accommodate seniors, such as retirement homes or hospitals across the Atlantic. The objective: to make life easier for caregivers, and to offer a new channel of contact for the elderly, who sometimes suffer from prolonged isolation.

They will now be able to use Amazon Echo Show 8 devices to communicate more easily with their family and loved ones. This alternative is apparently more intuitive than a smartphone, which allows anyone, even elderly, to use it alone. Enough to offer a little autonomy and privacy to people who are sometimes very dependent on caregivers.

In theory, this could also change the way caregivers and other stakeholders work. The staff can thus pass a possible announcement to the residents through their Echo. This avoids having to make a tedious tour, or to go through archaic means like the famous sheet of paper slipped under the door. Most importantly, it allows staff to communicate directly with patients when needed. A doctor can, for example, carry out an initial analysis of the situation remotely, even before going to the patient concerned or not.

In theory, this system should make it possible to avoid certain round trips; a gain anything but negligible, in an environment where the employees already chain the kilometers between the rooms on a daily basis. It would also make it more available to those who need it most. Ultimately, it is therefore a simple intercom system as is already found in some establishments; it looks like a real concrete benefit at all levels… except one, and not the least.

Alexa, a powerful ally or a double agent?

Because if the intercoms are designed specifically for this use, this is obviously not the case with the Amazon Echo. However, everyone knows that the medical file is one of the most sensitive elements in terms of data protection. And knowing the well-documented indiscretion of Alexa, one can legitimately wonder if this does not amount to inviting the wolf into the fold.

Because without getting into paranoia, we must admit that the prospect of seeing Alexa and her wandering ears colonize an entire hospital is not necessarily reassuring at first. And we are not even talking about the cybersecurity aspect, which is often absolutely disastrous on small connected objects … but also in hospitals in general.

Fortunately, the devices intended for this use will be cut off from some of the problematic functions at this level. For example, they will not keep any records, and do not require providing any personal information. Suddenly, one wonders what prevents Amazon from offering these options on consumer devices … but that’s another story.

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