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The U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) is working with tech giant Amazon to provide people with “reliable health information” via voice assisted technology.
Authorities said Wednesday that the technology would enable patients to “get professional, NHS-verified health information in seconds” using simple voice commands.
An algorithm will use information from the NHS website to give patients answers to questions like “Alexa, what are the symptoms of chickenpox?” and “Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?”.
The government said that elderly and blind patients would be among those to benefit from the new service.
Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for Health and Social Care, said that the technology represented “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.”
One of the commitments in the NHS Long Term Plan, which was launched in January 2019, is to make a greater number of NHS services available through digital platforms.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, described using voice assisted technology to provide information to patients as “interesting”, adding that it had “the potential to help some patients work out what kind of care they need before considering whether to seek face-to-face medical help.”
She went on to state that it was also “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.”
Stokes-Lampard also highlighted that, “while some patients might want to use symptom-checkers in this way, not everyone will be happy to do so.”
Many, she explained, would not be able to afford the equipment needed, which would widen health inequalities and make access to care “even harder for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”