The UK’s National Health Service is making Alexa available to millions of patients in another sign that voice technology is here to stay in healthcare.
The nationalized healthcare system announced today that Amazon’s service will be available via information on the NHS website and can answer common questions related to the symptoms and treatments of illnesses. The answers will be pre-approved by the NHS.
The idea is to make it easier for patients, such as those who are elderly or blind, to access health information. The service is also meant to reduce the burden on healthcare workers by handling simple questions.
“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,” said Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, a division of the NHS focused on digital initiatives.
Critics were quick to question the privacy implications of using Alexa to field health questions. Big Brother Watch, a pro-privacy civil liberties group, called the move “a data protection disaster waiting to happen.”
Sky News reported that NHSX put “‘privacy rules’ in place to prevent peoples’ information being sold on.”
The NHS is the latest health system to take advantage of Alexa, which added critical privacy protections for healthcare earlier this year. Major hospital systems in the U.S., such as Providence St. Joseph Health and Boston Children’s Hospital, have rolled out voice apps built on Alexa.
Microsoft, Google and Apple are rapidly scaling efforts to bring artificial intelligence savvy to the healthcare industry. This week, Microsoft partnered with Providence to transition a hospital to Microsoft’s platforms.