Government Announces Amazon Alexa and NHS Partnership

Ellen Lees
By Ellen Lees,
updated on Jul 10, 2019

Government Announces Amazon Alexa and NHS Partnership

Alexa, can you help me? In a new partnership with the NHS, Amazon Alexa devices will be able to offer expert health advice to the general public

The government has announced that from this week, whenever UK users ask for health-related advice, Alexa, Amazon’s voice-assisted technology will be crawling the NHS Choices website for answers.

Originally announced last year, the partnership isn’t expected to stop at Alexa, with talks already underway with other companies, including Microsoft. The Department of Health in England believe the partnership could reduce demand on the NHS.

It is said that by 2020, half of all searches are expected to be made through voice-assisted technology. With voice-assisted devices on the rise, the use of voice search is already seen as particularly beneficial to vulnerable people, such as elderly people and those with visual impairment.

Voice-assisted technology not only offers a certain level of companionship for those who go long stints without company, but it can give people, who may otherwise not be able to use the Internet fully, accessibility to what is a huge part of society.

“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,” says Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

“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.”

Amazon’s algorithm will use information from the NHS website to provide answers to questions such as, “Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?” and “Alexa, what are the symptoms of chickenpox?”.

On the news, Matthew Gould, Chief Executive 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, 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.”

Amazon ensures users that all information will be kept confidential, however, privacy campaigners have raised concerns about data protection.

“Any public money spent on this awful plan rather than frontline services would be a breathtaking waste,” said Civil liberty group Big Brother Watch Director, Silkie Carlo. “Healthcare is made inaccessible when trust and privacy is stripped away, and that’s what this terrible plan would do.

“It’s a data protection disaster waiting to happen.”

The announcement has sparked debate on social media. From disappointment in addressing other issues in the NHS, such as underfunding and promotion of the 111 service, to the mocking of how accurate Alexa really is.

But jokes and complaints aside, for some people, this announcement is good news.

What do you think of the partnership? Would you trust Alexa to provide you with health advice? Is this a step in the right direction in making health advice more accessible to those who may otherwise be unable to get the information they need?

Let us know your thoughts @happifulhq.

Image credit: Rahul Chakraborty on Unsplash

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