‘Alexa, refill my prescription.’ Anthem launches voice-activated health plan assistant

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Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Connecticut has launched its enhanced Anthem Skill program for its medical and dental health plans. Anthem plan holders will be able to order prescription refills and take other health plan actions through Alexa-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo or the Alexa app.

“Other industries are helping to define the expectations within healthcare,” says Jeff Spahr, vice president of specialty business at Anthem. “If you think about the prevalence of the evolution of the smartphone and mobile apps, there's just a natural transition that people look towards. They'd like to use digital tools and then only if they need to, will they drop into a live customer service phone call.”

As part of its efforts to provide members with a digital first healthcare experience, Anthem Skill offers 24/7, voice-activated access to their health and dental plan benefit information.

Amazon’s Alexa voice-activated assistant was updated with the ability to answer users’ healthcare questions in early 2019. Using Alexa can improve employee education and compliance, potentially lowering the cost of care.

“Ideally, a more direct model to both educate healthcare consumers and help them more efficiently procure necessary healthcare items would have a positive impact on healthcare costs for the consumer and the employer,” Scot Marcotte, chief technology officer at HR and benefits consulting firm Buck, told Employee Benefit News at the time. “While some initial costs may increase to establish these services, better informed healthcare utilization should be a win-win for employers and individuals.”

After linking their account, employees can ask Alexa questions about some of their Anthem medical and dental health plan benefits, including HRA and HSA balances, their progress in meeting the plan’s deductible, ordering ID cards, and scheduling, rescheduling or canceling a call back from member services.

Anthem will continue to enhance the Anthem Skill experience so that it offers information that will simplify healthcare and help consumers lead healthier lives. Anthem anticipates making health plan information available for its vision plan later this year along with other updates.

“If you were to go back 10 years, the historical mindset was you had medical from one carrier, dental from another carrier, vision from another carrier, and you managed multiple ID cards,” Spahr says. “It creates a lot of confusion. So there's a lot of advantages to being able to manage that across one product, so that [employees] can go to one place and get their answers.”

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