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Ask Alexa to diagnose your health problems as NHS announces ‘world-first’ partnership with Amazon

This article was taken from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/07/09/ask-alexa-diagnose-health-problems-nhs-announces-world-first/

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Families will be able to “Ask Alexa” to help diagnose their health problems under a new deal between Amazon and the NHS.

Under the partnership, patients – including the elderly and blind – will be able to receive NHS-verified health information through simple voice commands.

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?’ ‘Alexa what are the symptoms of chickenpox’.

Health officials said the “world-first collaboration” would empower people to take more control of their own care.

And they said it had the potential to significantly reduce pressure on hospitals and GPs.

Internet of things | The new essentials

Amazon Alexa In January, US TV station CNBC reported that Amazon’s Alexa artificial-intelligence voice assistant stole the show at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Although the app was initially released in 2014 to work solely on Amazon’s Echo speaker, the company has since integrated it with devices from thermostats to cars, to security systems, and it’s now a bona fide rival to Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant.

ICEdot Crash Sensor If you fall off your bike and hit your head on the pavement, this device, built into a helmet, will send a signal to your phone and call for help. It’ll also work out how severe the crash was based on the impact, and send your GPS coordinates to your designated emergency contact. Reviews have been mixed, but the technology is clearly getting there, and the demand will inevitably be high once we realise how important these crash sensors can be and decide they’re affordable.

Nest Thermostat The so-called ‘smart thermostat’ is probably the most obvious internet-of-things home consumer product. As well as offering the useful ability to control the temperature via an app on your phone, Nest learns when you’re awake, asleep, home or away via a sensor and will adjust the temperature accordingly. It’ll also send you an email each month letting you know how much energy you’ve saved — and how much ‘Nesters’ have saved altogether. Here’s an example: ‘Since October 2011, Nesters have saved 12,042,986,211 kWh. That’s enough energy to pop all the popcorn needed to fill 418,000 cinemas.’

Lively This is a neat idea: a safety watch for the elderly and vulnerable. You give them the watch to wear, then set up sensors around their house to monitor their activity. For example: a sensor on the fridge helps you make sure they’re eating regularly; one on the medicine cabinet or box of tablets will alert you if they’ve missed a dose. And one on the bedroom door can let you know they’re getting up in the morning. There’s also a ‘help’ button, which will call the ‘Lively Care Team’ so they can dispatch the emergency services if needed. Requires a monthly subscription.

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.”

Officials said the technology would not allow Amazon to store any health data, so that advertising could be targeted at those using Ask Alexa for information about symptoms.

Voice search has been increasing rapidly in recent years.

Experts predict that by 2020, half of all internet searches will be via voice-assisted technology.

The move follows pledges to ensure the NHS is “digital first” within a decade, including changes to make more services available via online and video consultations.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said better access to advice about symptoms could relieve pressures on family doctors, ensuring they saw fewer patients with minor ailments.

But she raised concerns that the devices could create a “digital divide” among the public, with better access to help for those who can afford them.

At a glance | Amazon Echo

Five things you can do with the Echo

  • Control your music by saying “Alexa, play some Adele” without having to pick up your phone or walk over to your laptop
  • Ask for weather information by saying “Alexa, what’s the weather?”
  • Get other handy information such as the time and traffic on your commute
  • Alexa can also help out in the kitchen by answering questions such as “Alexa, set a timer for 25 minutes”
  • Third-party compatibility with Alexa means that you can order a pizza or book a taxi just by speaking

Price:Between £49.99 and £199.99

“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.

“Technology can be brilliant, when used appropriately, and it is playing an increasingly important part in the way we deliver care to our patients throughout the NHS, but we must be careful not to create a ‘digital divide’ between those patients who can afford it and are able to use it, and those who can’t,” she said.

She also called for independent research to check that the advice given is safe.

“Patients who are frail often have more complex healthcare needs so it is important that they do not rely on this as their sole source of health advice, but seek the help of a healthcare professional such as a local pharmacist who can give further guidance on whether they need the expert care of a GP for more serious or ongoing symptoms,” she said.

Officials said a new unit – called NHSX – will look at ways of making more NHS services available to all patients through digital technology.

Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, 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.”