The government have announced a partnership with Amazon Echo (Alexa) that will give people access to expert health information. The voice-assisted technology will automatically search the NHS Choices website when UK users ask for health-related advice.
The use of voice search is on the rise and is seen as particularly beneficial to vulnerable patients, such as elderly people, or those with impairments that may prevent them from accessing the internet through more traditional means. Although smart speakers such as Alexa are hi-tech, they’re designed in a way which increases accessibility, making them less daunting to use.
The Department of Health in England said it could reduce demand on the NHS by giving people the ability to take control of their healthcare. Under the partnership, Amazon's algorithm uses information from the NHS website to provide answers to questions such as, "How do I treat a migraine?" and, "What are the symptoms of measles?"
Voice search has been gaining traction, with half of all searches expected to be made via voice-assisted technology by 2020. Under the NHS long-term plan, which aims to improve the quality of patient care while also relieving pressure on the health service, it has committed to making more services available digitally. The NHSX unit has been set up to boost the use of digital technologies in the health service.
Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, said: “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. Similar initiatives are now being explored with other technology providers, such as Microsoft.
Chatbots aren’t the only means of introducing new technology into the NHS. Other possibilities already being pursued are an expansion of electronic prescribing and the use of artificial intelligence to analyse scans. These are part of the first steps towards a technical revolution in the NHS. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that embracing technology in this way would considerably reduce pressure on hard-working GPs and pharmacists.
While some people have raised concerns that the technology could prevent people seeking proper medical advice, those involved in the development say it’s primarily intended for minor ailments. Leading health professionals have also stressed the importance of continued independent research to make sure the advice being given is safe and correct. Data protection issues were also addressed by Amazon, who said that all information will be kept confidential and that the technology does not compile profiles on people.
The NHS staffing crisis has been worsened by recent changes to IR35 in the public sector that affect off-payroll workers. The changes will also apply to the private sector from April 2020. Although contingent workers who use an umbrella company don’t have to worry about IR35, our five minute guide gives you the essential facts to be aware of be if you’re a medical locum or agency worker.
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