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Amazon Alexa will now be giving out health advice to UK citizens

An Amazon Echo with tablets and a temperature probe beside it
An Amazon Echo with tablets and a temperature probe beside itAssociated Press

The UK’s National Health Service hopes that its partnership with Amazon could help to reduce demand on its services.

The news: From this week, when UK users ask their Amazon smart speaker health-related questions, it will automatically search the official NHS website, which is full of medically backed health tips and advice. For example, you will be able to ask your Echo device, “What are the symptoms of flu?” Until now, it would answer these sorts of questions based on a variety of popular responses.

The aim: The government believes it will ease the burden on over-stretched doctors and hospitals, but also help elderly, disabled, or blind patients who may struggle to access this information otherwise, according to the UK health secretary Matt Hancock. The UK already has a deal with Babylon, an AI app that provides basic answers to queries about symptoms.

The worries: There are concerns that the voice service might discourage genuinely ill people from seeking proper medical help. The service will only provide answers to questions rather than the sort of back-and-forth conversation you would have with a doctor.

The professional body for family doctors, the Royal College of GPs, called for independent research to be carried out to ensure that the advice given is safe. It being Amazon, there are also concerns over data privacy, especially in an area as sensitive as health. However, the company insists that all data is encrypted and confidential, and can be deleted by customers.

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