The Amazon voice-activated device Alexa is to be recruited to provide health advice to those who cannot use the internet, it was announced today.
It is the latest technological solution to be promoted by health secretary Matt Hancock, who said: “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.”
The Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, called for independent research on its effectiveness. 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, potential barriers for some patients must not be dismissed, she adds. “NHS Choices (nhs.uk) is already one of the most reliable online sources for health advice, symptom and treatment information, and many people are familiar with voice-assisted technology and feel comfortable using it.
“Combining the two could be an effective way of accessing information about your health without leaving your home – thereby freeing up more GP appointments for those patients who need them most.
“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.”
Professor Stokes-Lampard also points out that many people will not be able to afford the expense of this equipment, thus widening health inequalities. She added: “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.”