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Alexa's blood pressure skills expand thanks to HIPAA compliance and Omron

Alexa, remind me about my hypertension.

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Omron's blood pressure watch, HeartGuide, launched earlier this year.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'll admit it, I'm nervous about giving Alexa permission to understanding my blood pressure readings. Then again, I don't check my blood pressure enough, and I'm not the only one.

Omron Healthcare's blood-pressure-measuring watch, the HeartGuide, launched earlier this year. I wore it for a test drive. I have hypertension, and take medication. The watch helped me take a lot more readings than I'd normally do.

Not everyone can afford a $500 blood pressure watch, though, and many people simply forget to monitor their blood pressure otherwise. Ranndy Kellogg, CEO of Omron Healthcare, says that the company's latest push to add more voice-activated assistant skills via Alexa is, in part, because of seniors. "We think it's a great avenue for getting information on heart health and reminding them to take blood pressure. Much better than a watch face or phone face. You or I might want a text message on our phone. They don't."

Omron has had Alexa skills since late 2018, but Amazon's new HIPAA-compliant health care skills that arrived in April now allow you to manage your data: A 30-day blood pressure report can be sent to your Omron account or as a PDF to the email address attached to the user's Alexa account. Charts give observations on whether blood pressure is trending higher or lower than normal according to American Heart Association (AHA) and American College of Cardiology (ACC) hypertension guidelines. It will also offer the beginnings of some insights similar to what are Omron's HeartAdvisor app on its new watch. Alexa devices with screens can even get graphs of readouts. There are also reminders to check blood pressure.

The HIPAA (US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) compliant skills on Alexa are invite only to certain businesses. Omron connects to Alexa and allows permissions through its app.

Omron plans to expand these new voice assistant skills to other platforms next, including Google Assistant and Apple's Siri. But for now they're Alexa only, according to Kellogg.

The Alexa skills still require that you have an Omron blood pressure-reading device that's syncing data to Omron's app. I haven't tested the skills yet, but I'm curious how much the reminders and insights would help me be more aware. Without many wearable devices capable of taking blood pressure on the spot, these types of Alexa skills seem like a useful step.

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