After the formal launch of NHSX, a new unit for digital, data and technology, the department of health and social care in England has announced that the NHS is working with Amazon to make verified health information available through the AI-powered voice assistant Alexa.
Amazon’s algorithms will use information from the NHS.UK resource to give people answers to questions about common illnesses, such as flu and chickenpox, with the hope that this will give patients more control of their health and care and relieve pressure on GPs.
“The public need to be able to get reliable information about their health easily and in ways they actually use,” said Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX. “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,” Gould added.
WHY IT MATTERS
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said the initiative had “potential” to support patients and free up GP appointments.
But the RCGP chair also cautioned that many people would not be able to afford the device, which could result in “widening health inequalities and making access to care even harder for some of the most vulnerable people in our society”.
“Technology can be brilliant, when used appropriately, and it is playing an increasingly important part in the way we deliver care to our patients throughout the NHS, but we must be careful not to create a 'digital divide' between those patients who can afford it and are able to use it, and those who can't,” Professor Stokes-Lampard added.
THE LARGER TREND
In the US, Amazon announced in May that it would allow developers to create HIPAA-compliant healthcare skills for Alexa through an invite-only programme.
A month before, however, Bloomberg News reported that an Amazon team was employed to review recordings from its smart speakers as part of efforts to train systems and further develop services.
An Amazon spokesperson told the publication at the time: “We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. All information is treated with high confidentiality and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption and audits of our control environment to protect it.”
ON THE RECORD
Commenting on the partnership, Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, said: “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.
“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.”