Ask Alexa about your cold? Amazon device to plug into NHS database

Amazon’s Alexa has already transformed the daily lives of Britons, allowing them to satisfy all their musical needs with a single voice command at home.

Amazon's Alexa is to provide NHS health advice (Picture: David Parry/PA Wire)

Now the technological innovation will help plug the gap left amid spiralling wait times for GP appointments, with the device set to answer people’s health queries by searching the official NHS website.

Until now, people asking Alexa a health question would be given an answer based on a variety of popular responses.

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But a new partnership with the NHS means Alexa will now give answers based on information from the health service website, which has been verified by health professionals.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock arrives for a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, London. Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

The plan is to help patients, especially the elderly and blind, take more control of their healthcare and help reduce the burden on the NHS.

The Royal College of GPs has welcomed the move, but warned independent research must be carried out to ensure the advice given was safe.

The new partnership has been spearheaded by NHSX, which launched earlier this month and aims to make health services available to patients via digital technology.

Tech experts predict that by 2020, half of all searches for information will be via voice-assisted technology.

Health 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.”

Amazon’s algorithm will use information from the NHS website to provide answers to questions such as: “Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?”, “Alexa, what are the symptoms of flu?” and “Alexa, what are the symptoms of chickenpox?”.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, welcomed the move, but urged caution.

She said: “This idea is certainly interesting and it has the potential to help some patients work out what kind of care they need before considering whether to seek face-to-face medical help, especially for minor ailments that rarely need a GP appointment such as coughs and colds that can be safely treated at home.

“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.

“While some patients might want to use symptom-checkers in this way, not everyone will be happy to do so and many people will not be able to afford the expense of this equipment, thus widening health inequalities and making access to care even harder for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Adi Latif, who is registered blind, is a consultant at AbilityNet – a charity that helps disabled people use technology.

The 38-year-old said: “Convenience is king and it’s brilliant to know I can ask Alexa about various illnesses and receive credible, NHS-verified information.”