Amazon's Alexa to offer NHS healthcare advice

Britain’s national health service teams up with Amazon

Big Brother Watch, a pro-privacy civil liberties group, called the move "a data protection disaster waiting to happen". Although a non-emergency medical helpline is active (accessed by dialling 111) plus an on-line system, health officials are keen to explore other ways by which the United Kingdom population can access medical services. The Department of Health in England believe the partnership could reduce demand on the NHS.

Amazon has inked a deal with the NHS that will see it's AI-powered voice assistant Alexa be used to offer health advice for patients who can't easily access information online.

This new announcement supports the commitment in the NHS Long Term Plan to make more NHS services available digitally.

When Alexa users ask how to treat a migraine headache, or for the symptoms of the chickenpox, the device will respond with answers sourced from the NHS website.

Amazon said it began updating its Echo smart speakers to search NHS websites for medical answers at the start of the week.

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Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of Global Positioning System, gave a more cautious endorsement, saying the partnership showed "potential" to be useful, especially for patients with minor ailments.

The 38-year-old, from Camden, north London, said: "Convenience is king and it's brilliant to know I can ask Alexa about various illnesses and receive credible, NHS-verified information. Just literally put the metadata on so that a search function, whether it's voice, or Google, or what have you, can find that NHS answer and confirm it".

"However, it is 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". ZDNet UK Editor in Chief Steve Ranger talks about the moving parts and the challenges getting the NHS ready for innovation in the future. Phil Booth, coordinator of medConfidential, told Techworld that the deal could also involve transferring data to the U.S., where there is no overarching data protection regulation equivalent to GDPR and where foreigners don't receive the same protections as United States citizens.

Amazon has sought to allay concerns from privacy groups that it can not be trusted with such sensitive data.

Amazon sought to reassure users that their information will be kept confidential and not shared with third parties, adding that voice recordings can be deleted.

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