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Amazon Alexa Challenge Envisions an mHealth Care Management Tool

Amazon and Merck are challenging digital health innovators to design an mHealth care management platform that turns Amazon Alexa into a personal coach for those with type 2 diabetes.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Amazon and Merck are joining forces in a challenge designed to turn Alexa into an mHealth care management tool for people with type 2 diabetes.

The Alexa Diabetes Challenge offers a $125,000 prize to the mHealth innovator who can best develop a digital health platform integrated with Amazon’s digital assistant for people newly diagnosed with the chronic condition, which affects some 27.5 million people in the U.S. alone.

Digital assistants like Alexa, Google Home and Microsoft Cortana are slowly creeping up on the mHealth horizon, aided in part by a strong public relations campaign and a Tractica report that places one in more than 40 million homes by 2021. They’ve made splashy headlines this year at both the CES 2017 show in Las Vegas and the Health Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS) conference and exhibition in Orlando.

“It really changes the game for patient engagement,” said Nathan Treloar, president and COO of Orbita, a Boston-based provider of connected home healthcare technology that debuted a cloud-based platform and interface for intelligent voice assistants at HIMSS17.

“The ability to have that ‘always on and always available’ interaction with a patient is huge,” he added. “It will give [healthcare providers] new visibility into what the patient is experiencing at home.”

Type 2 diabetes might be the ideal test case for an mHealth platform integrated with a digital home assistant. The chronic condition is closely tied to lifestyle and health and wellness decisions, and healthcare providers see a home-based mHealth platform as a good resource for collaborating with patients to affect and reinforce lifestyle decisions that improve care management.

The consequences can be profound. People diagnosed with type 2 diabetes often struggle with behavioral health problems after their diagnosis, as they struggle to adjust to lifestyle changes. And nearly half fail to keep up with their medication adherence, leading to long-term health problems that can include obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, blindness and amputations.

With that in mind, organizers of the Alexa Diabetes Challenge are looking for a platform that turns Alexa into a health and wellness coach – or, as Treloar pointed out at HIMSS, an ”always on and always available interaction with a patient.”

“This isn’t just a device that we’re going to attach to you to monitor you – we don’t need another monitoring device in the home,” he said. “We’re looking at the whole health experience, and a way to connect experiences and close that last mile of communication.”

The Alexa Diabetes Challenge, sponsored by Merck & Company and Amazon Web Services and powered by Luminary Labs, calls for submissions by May 22. Five finalists will be chosen for participation in a Virtual Accelerator, in which they’ll each receive $25,000 and 10,000 AWS credits, have access to mentors and participate in a boot camp at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters.

The finalists will then pitch their products at a Demo Day at the AWS Pop-Up Loft in New York City, with the winning product getting a $125,000 grand prize.


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