Amazon’s Alexa now offers official health advice from the NHS website.
Until now, people who asked the company’s voice-activated devices a health question were given answers based on a variety of popular responses.
But a new partnership means Britons will now receive answers that have been verified by health professionals – such as how to treat a migraine, and what the symptoms of flu and chickenpox are.
It is hoped the new feature will help patients – especially those who are blind, elderly or unable to access the internet in other ways – to take more control of their healthcare and reduce the burden on the NHS.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News there are privacy rules in place to prevent peoples’ information being sold on, and that the government was up for doing this sort of collaboration with other tech companies.
He explained his father has an Alexa and asks it all sorts of questions, adding: I want him to get the right answers.
Citing some people asking their devices about whether to get vaccinations, Mr Hancock said: I want people to get the best medical advice that says ‘yes’, rather than the sort of spurious stuff that turns up on the Internet and randomly is put up the algorithms.
Although the Royal College of GPs has welcomed the move, it warned that independent research is required to ensure the advice given out is safe.
Its chairwoman, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said: This idea is certainly interesting and it has the potential to help some patients work out what kind of care they need before considering whether to seek face-to-face medical help, especially for minor ailments that rarely need a GP appointment, such as coughs and colds that can be safely treated at home.
However, it is vital that independent research is done to ensure that the advice given is safe, otherwise it could prevent people seeking proper medical help and create even more pressure on our overstretched GP service.
Professor Stokes-Lampard also stressed that frail patients with complex healthcare needs should not rely on Alexa as their sole source of health advice.
Experts have predicted that half of all searches for information will be via voice-assisted technology by 2020.
Adi Latif is registered blind and works for AbilityNet, a charity which helps disabled people use technology.
The consultant, from London, uses Amazon Alexa and other voice-assisted technology for everyday tasks and says convenience is king.
He added: It’s brilliant to know I can ask Alexa about various illnesses and receive credible, NHS-verified information.
It cuts out all the searching online, which can be a traumatic experience for many people – especially those who are disabled or not familiar with technology.
(c) Sky News 2019: ‘Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?’ – Amazon and NHS unveil partnership