Alexa, am I dying?

Nicola Scoon


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    In its Long Term Plan, the NHS committed to making more services available through digital means. One way their delivering on this goal is by giving you the option to ask Alexa health-related questions, with the answers verified by the NHS. 

    Why has the NHS partnered with Amazon Alexa? 

    Digital services are a win-win for the NHS. Easy access to information means fewer people need to wait in line to see a GP. Doctors and nurses can then spend more time dealing with patients with urgent or complex needs. 

    This partnership with Amazon also makes healthcare information and advice more accessible. The NHS website went through a redesign to make it clearer, but some people still find websites hard to access. Voice search is more inclusive, giving more people better access to information. 

    With half of all searches expected to be made by voice in 2020, it makes sense for the NHS to get involved. And what better way to dip its toe into the water than with a giant like Amazon?

    Amazon Alexa health questions


    What does this partnership mean for us? 

    Ok, so Alexa can’t really tell us if we’re dying. Yes, we have asked. While it can’t predict your untimely end, your Alexa-enabled devices can now give you information on a whole range of healthcare topics. 

    Instead of returning search results from the internet, Alexa now provides verified information straight from the NHS. You’ll recognise this as Alexa will respond with “According to the NHS website…”. You can ask for help with migraines, how to deal with the flu, or for the symptoms of chickenpox. 

    “...asking your speaker a question is much easier than pulling out your phone and typing in a search”

    The NHS has worked with Amazon to create a modified version of their content that makes sense for voice search. Questions are answered with relevant answers, with enough detail to help. It’ll also suggest when to visit a pharmacy or speak to your GP. 

    There are a lot of benefits for us here as users. If you’re in the middle of a situation, asking your speaker a question is much easier than pulling out your phone and typing in a search. You can get immediate recommendations on how to soothe pain or deal with an irritation. And Alexa’s answers will tell you who can help you further if you need it, so you know whether to visit a pharmacy, GP or call NHS 111.

    The service is already live, so go ahead and try it. Ask Alexa a question like, ‘Alexa, how do you deal with a cough?’. 


    What happens to our data?

    The main concern for most people is how their data will be used. Especially here, where it involves personal medical details. 

    In a recent blog, the NHS website team confirmed what happens to our data. Eva Lake, Head of Engagement, clarified that none of this data is shared with third parties. Our questions and conversations are kept highly confidential, which is reassuring. 

    “...the NHS confirmed this partnership is at zero cost to the taxpayer.”

    One concern that people have is whether this data will be used to create a ‘health profile’ on users. The NHS has confirmed this isn’t the case. Amazon also won’t be using our data to recommend products or suggest items to buy. This is a welcome stance and reflects the impartiality of the NHS. 

    The NHS has also clarified that no patient data is shared with Amazon through the partnership. This means that Amazon won’t have access to your medical records or any data about you from the NHS. In the same response to press, the NHS confirmed this partnership is at zero cost to the taxpayer. 


    Will this service launch on Google Assistant or Siri?

    Wondering if and when this service might come to Google Assistant or Siri? Us too. There’s been no confirmation either way. 

    The Amazon partnership isn’t exclusive, so we could see something similar on competing devices soon. If the NHS is committed to digital inclusivity, working with multiple voice search providers would be a big plus. 

    For now, Amazon has a competitive edge in the healthcare space. It’ll be interesting to see whether Google and Apple are eyeing up a similar collaboration.


    How else can Amazon Alexa help with our health worries?

    Healthcare continues to be an area of interest for the likes of Google and Amazon. It’s edged ahead of the competition with this partnership, but what else could Amazon Alexa do? 

    There are already Alexa skills in the health and fitness category, with it growing regularly. You can find skills for meditation, workouts, medication reminders and more. 

    Alexa NHS

    Outside our homes, hospitals in the US are installing Alexa-enabled devices in wards and waiting areas. These devices are used to identify waiting times, suggest treatment plans and more. 

    AI services like Amazon Alexa continue to make moves into the healthcare world. Only time will tell whether it’s a positive for staff and patients or a recipe for multiple privacy issues.  

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