Comment: Is asking Alexa for advice good for the future of healthcare?

11th July 2019

Amazon’s Alexa can now provide expert health advice.

That is According to new information by the government.

From this week, Alexa will search the NHS Choices website for health advice.

In response to the news, Medical Negligence Supervisor, Jorel Sanchez believes this may be beneficial.

The technology can reduce pressure on the NHS.

It can also give vulnerable adults access to information they may otherwise struggle to reach.

Generally, this is a positive idea.

The Department of Health also believe the technology can reduce strain on the NHS.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock arguing the time is now to “embrace” technology. 

We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare.

Is this good for healthcare?

Not everyone is in favour.

The announcement has drawn vocal criticism from many privacy campaigners.

Someone who is definitely against the idea is, Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch.

Any public money spent on this awful plan, rather than front line services, would be a breath-taking waste.

Healthcare is made inaccessible when trust and privacy is stripped away.

It’s a data protection disaster waiting to happen.

Similarly, Jorel has his own concerns.

Although it can be impressive and innovative, it’s important to recognise technology is not infallible.

After all, is talking to Alexa any different to typing a search on the NHS website?

Will Alexa be able to determine different symptoms?

Assistant Litigation Executive, Alicia Lovely also views the announcement with some trepidation.

Alicia believes healthcare can only be as good as the human behind it.

Artificial Intelligence is not perfect.

It is still a machine that requires a user to give it specific instructions.

It could also become a danger to public health.

If a patient presents their symptoms to Alexa without an examination, how can it then alert them to the seriousness of their symptoms?

This could mean that the patient is unaware of the risk!

If we prevent people seeking proper medical help we may create even more pressure on the NHS.

In terms of affordability, Alicia asks if this is another way for Amazon to see profits soar?

Amazon say the new technology will provide the elderly easier healthcare access, however this isn’t necessarily accurate.

Do many elderly relatives or friends have an Alexa in their home?

Furthermore, is the access compatible for all pre-existing models or do we need to upgrade?

Are we safe to ask Alexa health-related questions?

Fletchers Senior Security Engineer and in-house Cyber Security expert, Chris Bentley argues that we’re a long way away from Alexa replacing human healthcare:

If someone asks Alexa for medical advice they will receive the same advice if they did a search on a computer. 

So, this isn’t a design to replace visiting the doctor.

However, there is definitely a benefit if someone is seeking advice. 

From a privacy point of view, Amazon advise that all data will remain confidential. 

As the service expands out, however, it will be interesting to see how security expansion.

Definitely one to watch!

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