Amazon’s Alexa to Offer UK Medical Advice

Andrew Cummings
July 10, 2019

News that the NHS is collaborating with Amazon won't go down with the security-minded sectors of society today, although obviously Amazon says any weird health questions you say out loud to your little speaker friend will remain confidential.

The technology will not allow Amazon to store any health data, so that advertising could be targeted at those using Ask Alexa for information about symptoms.

Users who asked Alexa questions relating to health were previously provided advice based on a variety of popular responses, but now the assistant will provide information based on automatic searches of the NHS Choices website.

Amazon is teaming up with the UK's National Health Service (NHS) for a new Alexa feature offering medical advice.

By providing better access to advice on common illnesses, particularly for elderly or blind patients who are unable to access the internet on a smartphone or computer, it's hoped pressure on GP services and A&E will be relieved.

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

Privacy campaigners, however, said they were concerned about the partnership and its implications because Amazon has a worrying track record on handling user data.

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.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was right for the NHS to "embrace" technology in this way, predicting it would reduce pressure on "our hard-working Global Positioning System and pharmacists".

"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.

This latest collaboration marks a further step into the healthcare arena with its Alexa technology for the online marketplace giant.

Adi Latif is registered blind and works for AbilityNet, a charity which helps disabled people use technology.

She did call for more independent research to be done to ensure that accessing health advice in this way would not "prevent people seeking proper medical help and create even more pressure".

Matthew Gould, Chief Executive of NHSX, added: "The public need to be able to get reliable information about their health easily and in ways they actually use".

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