Amazon Alexa users in the UK can turn to their smart computerized assistants for National Health Service (NHS) health advice, thanks to a new partnership announced today.
The UK Department of Health said the technology will help patients to get professional, NHS-verified health information in seconds, through simple voice commands.
Amazon’s algorithm uses information from the NHS website to provide answers to voice questions such as: “Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?” and “Alexa, what are the symptoms of flu?”
The government said the technology has the potential to reduce the pressure on the NHS and GPs by providing information for common illnesses.
Voice search has been increasing rapidly. By 2020, half of all searches are expected to be made through voice-assisted technology.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said the government wants to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare.
“Through the NHS Long Term Plan, we want to embrace the advances in technology to build a health and care system that is fit for the future and NHSX will drive this revolution to bring the benefits to every patient, clinician and carer,” he stated.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the partnership 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.
However, she said it is vital that independent research is done to ensure that the advice given is safe, otherwise it could prevent people seeking proper medical help.
“While some patients might want to use symptom-checkers in this way, not everyone will be happy to do so and many people will not be able to afford the expense of this equipment, thus widening health inequalities and making access to care even harder for some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” she warned.