The NHS is collaborating with Amazon to provide health information from its website through the company’s Alexa voice-activated service.
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced that Amazon has been programming Alexa algorithms to provide answers to questions such as “How do I treat migraine?” “What are the symptoms of flu?” and “What are the symptoms of chickenpox?”
The department said the technology will help patients, especially the elderly, blind and those who cannot access the internet through traditional means, to get NHS-verified health information quickly through simple voice commands.
It also hopes the service will reduce pressure on the NHS and GPs by providing information for common illnesses.
The move marks the continuation of a trend for Amazon and public service providers. The company has worked with partners internationally on making a number of healthcare ‘skills’ available on its developer website for Alexa, taking in processes such dealing with express scripts in pharmacies and supporting people with chronic conditions.
In the UK, the Government Digital Service has worked with Amazon on making information from the GOV.UK platform available through Alexa, and bodies such as HM Revenue and Customs have harnessed the technology for specific services such as renewing tax credits.
Voice search growth
The DHSC emphasised that voice search has been increasing rapidly and that by 2020 half of all searches are expected to be made through the technology.
Matthew Gould, chief executive of the NHSX digital healthcare policy unit in DHSC, 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.”
Speaking on the day of the announcement, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he wanted the NHS to build similar relationships with Google, Apple and other companies.
In a speech to the Future Investor in Healthcare Forum, he said: "Because we have a unique opportunity in the NHS to leverage the expertise ‒ and sheer size ‒ of the world’s largest healthcare system to become the biggest driver of healthcare innovation in the world.
"We have the capability to help healthtech companies access the finance they need to spur innovation by being involved from the beginning: by specifying what we need for therapeutics, diagnostics, devices and digital management."