Ask Dr Alexa to pro­vide you with NHS health ad­vice

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Laura Don­nelly Health edi­tor

FAM­I­LIES will be able to “Ask Alexa” to help di­ag­nose health prob­lems un­der a deal be­tween Ama­zon and the NHS.

Pa­tients will be able to re­ceive Nhs ver­i­fied health in­for­ma­tion through simple voice com­mands on the de­vice.

Of­fi­cials in­sisted that the tech­nol­ogy would not allow Ama­zon to store health data that could allow it to di­rect ad­ver­tis­ing at those using the ser­vice, but its al­go­rithms will use in­for­ma­tion from the NHS web­site to pro­vide an­swers to ques­tions such as: “Alexa, how do I treat a mi­graine?” or “Alexa, what are the symp­toms of chick­en­pox?”

Health of­fi­cials said the “world-first col­lab­o­ra­tion” would allow peo­ple to take more con­trol of their own care and had the po­ten­tial to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce pres­sure on hos­pi­tals and GPS.

Matt Han­cock, the Health Sec­re­tary, 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.”

Voice search has caught on rapidly in re­cent years. Ex­perts pre­dict that by 2020, half of all in­ter­net searches will be via voice-as­sisted tech­nol­ogy. It fol­lows pledges to make the NHS “digital first” within a decade and able to pro­vide on­line and video con­sul­ta­tions.

Prof He­len Stokes-lam­pard, of the Royal Col­lege of GPS, said bet­ter access to ad­vice could re­lieve the pres­sure on doc­tors, en­sur­ing they saw fewer pa­tients with mi­nor ail­ments.

How­ever, she raised con­cerns that the de­vices could cre­ate a “digital di­vide”, with bet­ter access for those who could af­ford the tech­nol­ogy. She said: “While some pa­tients might want to use symp­tom-check­ers in this way, not everyone will be happy to do so … tech­nol­ogy can be bril­liant when used ap­pro­pri­ately and is play­ing an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant part in the way we de­liver care, but we must be care­ful not to cre­ate a ‘digital di­vide’ be­tween those pa­tients who can af­ford it and are able to use it, and those who can’t.”

She also called for in­de­pen­dent re­search to en­sure ad­vice given was safe. “Pa­tients who are frail of­ten have more com­plex health­care needs so it is im­por­tant they do not rely on this as their sole source of health ad­vice,” she said.

Of­fi­cials said a new unit, NHSX, would look at making more ser­vices avail­able to pa­tients via tech­nol­ogy.

Matthew Gould, head of NHSX, 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, 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.”

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