Doctor's appointment? No thanks, I'll ask Alexa

Amazon partners up with the NHS, with hopes of reducing the pressure on the health service

Amazon Alexa
(Image credit: Amazon)

With Amazon Prime Day just days away, you might be thinking of investing in a smart assistant so that you can ask anything from 'Alexa, who had a hit with 99 Red Balloons?' to 'Alexa, is the Northern Line FINALLY back in action?'.

But would you ask 'Alexa, what are the symptoms of flu?'. Or 'Alexa, why do I feel tired all the time?'. Anyone who owns an Amazon Alexa enabled smart assistant (or other AI assistant) has probably used their device for a health query at some point, just as those who don't have a smart assistant might have looked up their symptoms online at some point. 

The problem with Googling health conditions, however, is that not all advice available online is from reputable sources, and some of it is so unreliable that it could do more harm than good, either by worrying us unnecessarily or by preventing us from seeking qualified medical advice.

Now, Amazon Alexa has teamed up with the NHS and, according to a BBC report, all health-related voice searches on the platform will only contain official health guidelines, starting from this week. Previously, Alexa would use a combination of the most popular answers.  

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has praised the move, saying that it could help reduce pressure on the health service. Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, gave a more cautious endorsement, saying the partnership showed 'potential' to be useful, especially for patients with minor ailments. She did call for more independent research to be done to ensure that accessing health advice in this way would not 'prevent people seeking proper medical help and create even more pressure'. 

Privacy campaigners have raised concerns about patient confidentiality, but Amazon have offered reassurances, explaining that all Alexa voice data is encrypted and never shared with third parties; in fact, you can delete all voice data from it at any point.

Want to know more about what a smart assistant can do? Find out in our beginner's guide.