Editor’s note: Matt Arnold is principal analyst at DRG Digital – Manhattan Research, New York. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared under the title, “Pharma’s next play: Pill-plus-skill?”

With the recent headlines that Amazon has HIPAA-proofed Alexa, voice applications for health are back in the news. The first crop of HIPAA-compliant Alexa Skills, from a select group of six developer partners, includes apps for checking blood glucose readings (from Livongo), navigating an employee wellness program (Cigna), scheduling appointments with HCPs (Boston Children’s Hospital, Providence St. Joseph Health and Atrium Health) and tracking mail-order prescriptions (Express Scripts).

As the main U.S. law governing privacy of personal medical information, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) has been a barrier to the development of voice apps that can aid in patient care. The potential use cases, for everything from hands-free medical information to medical adherence tools, are many and promising. For pharma, it’s an obvious opportunity to add value through medication reminders and other types of patient support resources, and to inform patients about their products at key points in the medical decision-making process. However, given the regulatory hurdle posed by HIPAA, I had expected pharma’s initial ventures into voice tech to focus on applications for HCPs.

There have been a few forays by pharma into patient-directed Alexa Skills so far – notably Pfizer’s It’s Your Wellness, Own It. Skill and J&J’s Zyrtec-branded Your Daily AllergyCast – but these pioneers have understandably played it safe, steering a wide berth around sensitive medical topics or patient information. Amazon’s progress could change that equation.

Who will be the first in pharma to launch a HIPAA-sensitive Alexa skill for patients? For now, Amazon’s HIPAA-compliant app dev pr...