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Amazon’s Alexa to provide NHS health information

Launched by new NHSX digital change division

Alexa

The NHS has unveiled a collaboration with Amazon’s voice-assisted Alexa service to provide instant help with health questions.

The UK health service says the technology will help patients and the general public, especially the elderly, blind and those who cannot access the internet through traditional means, to find NHS-verified health information in a matter of seconds, through simple voice commands.

The launch of the collaboration has been heralded by tech-enthusiast health secretary Matt Hancock as a way of empowering patients, and helping to reduce the pressure on NHS and general practice to provide basic information on common illnesses.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says Amazon’s algorithm uses information from the NHS website to provide answers to voice questions such as: “Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?” and similar queries about symptoms of flu and chickenpox.

The scheme won’t involve patients receiving Alexa voice-activated devices, but will be accessed through a free app.

The use of voice search technologies from Alexa and rivals such as Google has taken off since their launch in the last few years: it is predicted that by next year, half of all searches will be made through voice-assisted tech.

The eyecatching announcement comes just a week after the launch of NHSX, a new division dedicated to accelerating the uptake of digital technology across the health service to help healthcare professionals and improve patient services.

Some critics are sceptical about how impactful NHSX can be, given that performance statistics show services deteriorating because of growing demand, chronic staff shortages and financial shortfalls.

There is also limited evidence that providing easier access to information alleviates pressure on services, though NHSX has also pledged to ensure any new technology adopted must also make healthcare professionals’ jobs easier too.

The announcement yesterday reflects the commitment in the NHS Long Term Plan to make more NHS services available digitally.

Matthew Gould

Matthew Gould

Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, said his organisation wants to work with tech companies big and small to provide better services to patients and the general public.

“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.”

The announcement represents a major step forward for Amazon as a trusted partner with the NHS.

In the US, the company is looking to go one step further and help manage health and handle confidential patient data in collaboration with US healthcare providers.

Its Alexa Skills Kit, a cloud-based software service, can be used by US health firms to create products that securely transmit and receive patient data.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

10th July 2019

From: Healthcare

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