Amazon Alexa to start offering NHS health advice

Henrietta Strickland
July 10, 2019

Until now, people who asked the company's voice-activated devices a health question were given answers based on a variety of popular responses.

The government has announced that from this week, whenever United Kingdom users ask for health-related advice, Alexa, Amazon's voice-assisted technology will be crawling the NHS Choices website for answers.

Use of voice search has been increasing rapidly and by next year half of all searches are expected to be made through voice-assisted technology.

The consultant, from London, uses Amazon Alexa and other voice-assisted technology for everyday tasks and says "convenience is king".

The department said the technology will help patients, especially the elderly, blind and those who can not access the internet through traditional means, to get NHS-verified health information quickly through simple voice commands.

This month saw the launch of NHSX, one of health secretary Matt Hancock's key policies, an organisation that aims to make more NHS services available to patients through digital technology.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of Global Positioning System, said better access to advice about symptoms could relieve pressures on family doctors, ensuring they saw fewer patients with minor ailments.

Under the partnership, Amazon's algorithm uses information from the NHS website to provide answers to questions such as, "How do I treat a migraine?" and, "What are the symptoms of chickenpox?"

It's hoped the world-first collaboration will empower people to take greater control of their health and care.

Its chairwoman, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said: "This idea is certainly interesting and it has the potential to help some patients work out what kind of care they need before considering whether to seek face-to-face medical help, especially for minor ailments that rarely need a GP appointment, such as coughs and colds that can be safely treated at home".

Adi Latif, who is registered blind, is a consultant at AbilityNet, a charity which helps disabled people use technology.

"Any public money spent on this bad plan rather than frontline services would be a breathtaking waste", said Civil liberty group Big Brother Watch Director, Silkie Carlo.

"Healthcare is made inaccessible when trust and privacy is stripped away, and that's what this bad plan would do", Ms Carlo said.

Also speaking about the announcement, Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, said the public should have easy access to "reliable" information about their health. Is this a step in the right direction in making health advice more accessible to those who may otherwise be unable to get the information they need?

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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