Home care service users will be able to get expert health advice using Amazon Alexa devices, under a new partnership with the NHS.
The government announced today that the collaboration will help patients, especially the elderly, blind and those who can’t access the internet through conventional means, take control of their healthcare.
The voice-assisted technology allows people to receive professional NHS-verified health information within seconds, through simple commands, such as “what are the symptoms of flu?”
Alexa can also be used for everyday tasks, such as emailing and ordering a taxi, thus aiding independence.
It is hoped that the partnership will reduce pressure on the NHS and GPs by providing information for common illnesses.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock 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.”
Adi Latif, a consultant at AbilityNet, a charity which helps people with disabilities use innovations to make their lives easier, has welcomed the latest announcement, but called for NHS services to be made available through digital technology.
Latif, who is registered blind and uses voice-assisted technologies to aid his independence, said: “Convenience is king and it’s brilliant to know I can ask Alexa about various illness 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. Smart speakers such as Alexa are no doubt high tech, but they are designed in a way which allows you to have a conversation with them making them less daunting to use.
“NHS services need to be designed in a way that allows all people, including those who are blind or disabled, access them easily from the convenience of their own home.”
Voice search has been increasing rapidly and, by 2020, half of all searches are expected to be via voice-assisted technology.
NHSX, which launched this month and is expected to drive forward the technological revolution of health and social care, will look at ways of making more NHS services available to all patients through digital technology.
Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, said: “The public need to be able to get reliable information about their health easily and in ways they actually use. 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.
“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.”
Ben Moody, head of Health and Social Care at TechUK, said:“Technology is revolutionising the way we access healthcare information and services, but it’s important that we don’t leave a large proportion of society behind. This development will help to ensure that some of the people most in need of verified health information are able to access it.”