Amazon Alexa to dispense NHS health advice.


What happened? 

Hey Alexa,” you’ll soon be able to ask, “what are the symptoms of flu?”. To which Amazon’s Echo smart speaker will respond with details direct from the NHS

The government has confirmed that the National Health Service is teaming up with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant to provide patients with official advice and information. So not only can Alexa set alarms and play music, but it will also now search the NHS website (www.nhs.uk) to tell you if your symptoms are serious. 

Voice searches are becoming more popular, with half of all searches expected to be voice-activated by next year. Officials hope this partnership will benefit vulnerable people such as those with mobility issues or visual impairment. They’re also hoping to cut demand on vital NHS services. 

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who has long been keen on introducing tech solutions to the NHS, said: “We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare, and technology like this is a great example of how people can access reliable, world-leading NHS advice from the comfort of their home.” 

He added that “we want to embrace the advances in technology to build a health and care system that is fit for the future”. Not everyone is happy, though. Silkie Carlo, director of a civil-liberties charity Big Brother Watch called it “a data protection disaster waiting to happen”. In response, Amazon only proffered a message that “all data was encrypted and kept confidential. Customers are in control of their voice history and can review or delete recordings.

How will it affect you? 

This project simply reads information straight from the NHS website, using Amazon’s algorithms to determine whether your query is medically related, so it’s identical to searching www.nhs.uk, or calling the non-emergency 111 support line. 

However, any data-privacy concerns you have are understandable. We’d recommend only using Alexa for casual symptoms, such as migraines, rather than serious illnesses.

What do we think? 

This partnership was inevitable in the age of Dr. Google. For years, people have searched their symptoms online. At least the Amazon-NHS pairing offers official medical advice, so people might not end up fearing the worst. But we have serious reservations that it may stop people seeking proper medical consultations, and we’d want to see a firm commitment that all NHS-related queries remain strictly confidential and are not exploited by Amazon.

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