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NHS health information available through Alexa

The UK’s National Health Service is collaborating with Amazon to provide reliable health information from the NHS website through voice-assisted technology.

The NHS is collaborating with Amazon to provide reliable health information from the NHS website through voice-assisted technology. The technology will help patients, especially the elderly, blind and those who cannot access the internet through traditional means, 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?” “Alexa, what are the symptoms of flu?” and “Alexa, what are the symptoms of chickenpox”.

The technology has the potential to reduce the pressure on the NHS and GPs by providing information for common illnesses.

UK secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock 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, reducing the pressure on our hardworking GPs and pharmacists.”

Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, a government unit working on the digital transformation of health and social care, said: “The public need to be able to get reliable information about their health easily and in ways they actually use. By working closely with Amazon and other tech companies, big and small, we can ensure that the millions of users looking for health information every day can get simple, validated advice at the touch of a button or voice command. Part of our mission at NHSX is to give citizens the tools to access services and information directly, and partnerships such as this are an important part of achieving this.”

Commenting, Rob Orr, executive director at Virgin Media Business, said: “This is an important initiative, coming at a time when consumer technology is playing an increasing role in healthcare provision. It should be warmly welcomed, not least because of its potential to alleviate pressure on the NHS – heightened by an ageing population – by giving people access to verified advice from their own home.

However, this announcement should be considered in the context of a widening gap in healthcare inequalities. On the one hand, voice search diagnosis will provide a quick service to people who may have difficulty leaving the home. However, many of the people who have the most to gain from this technology face the highest barriers to accessing it, including cost. Technology companies must ensure they are not increasing the divide as the digital revolution gains pace. Those that excel will ensure inclusion and accessibility are a priority, leading to better outcomes for patients and the NHS.”

Silkie Carlo, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, commented: “Encouraging the public to give their private health details to one of the most aggressive corporate data guzzlers is astonishingly misguided. Amazon’s Alexa records what people say, stores recordings in data centres we know nothing about, and exploits our data for profit. This scheme will likely result in people being profiled and targeted by data brokers based on their deeply personal health concerns. It’s a data protection disaster waiting to happen.”

Source: AV

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