United Kingdom health service to use Alexa to give medical advice

Need quick medical advice in Britain? Ask Alexa

The United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS) has announced what it claims to be a world first: a partnership with Amazon's Alexa to provide NHS website health guidance.

The NHS is collaborating with Amazon to help patients, especially the elderly, visually-impaired or those who can not access the Internet through traditional means, to get professional, NHS-verified health information using voice commands, the official release notes.

Reports claim that Alexa would give answers to basic health questions like "Alexa, what are the symptoms of flu?" or "Alexa, how to treat a migraine?", with well vetted information provided by NHS health professionals.

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 Global Positioning System and pharmacists. And by 2020 it is estimated that half of the searches will be through voice-assisted technology.

Civil liberty group Big Brother Watch told the BBC the partnership was "a data protection disaster waiting to happen".

The new partnership has been spearheaded by NHSX, an NHS body set up to bring digital technology to patients.

'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'.

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"We want to empower every patient to take better control of their health care", said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Beyond that, though, the UK's NHS move is very interesting based on the current dynamics around the world when it comes to data privacy and security.

Some privacy campaigners also pointed out that Amazon stores users' voice recordings in their own data centres.

"These home surveillance devices are controversial and not widely used".

With voice-search technology on the rise, the DOH's decision will likely benefit aged people and people with visual impairments, who might in any other case struggle to search for such info on devices with screens.

In the age of the European General Data Protection Rule, the United Kingdom allowing a USA company to hold this personal information seems disingenuous.

"The public need to be able to get reliable information about their health easily and in ways they actually use", Matthew Gould, chief executive of the new tech-focused NHSX unit, said in a statement.

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