Alexa health advice to be tailored to Scotland’s NHS

Thursday 11th July 2019

NHS Scotland is working with its English counterpart to ensure Scots patients who ask Amazon’s voice-activated speaker questions about their health are directed to the right place, healthandcare.scot understands.

Matt Hancock, the UK Government’s health secretary, yesterday announced a partnership with the US tech giant that would see health information from NHS England’s NHS.uk website available on the gadget.

NHS Scotland is now working to ensure any advice accessed through Alexa reflects the differences in the health service north of the border.

The Scottish Government says it supports the project but that the NHS inform website should be the first port of call for Scots.

“While the majority of the information [on NHS.uk] is totally appropriate, there might be some local service references and pathway references that are different,” an NHS Scotland source tells healthandcare.scot.

If unchanged the advice would include references to walk-in centres instead of Scotland’s minor injury units, while criteria for vaccination and screening programmes can vary in each country.

NHSX, NHS England’s tech and digital unit, is working with Scotland's NHS inform to personalise the information. Similar discussions with health officials in Northern Ireland and Wales are also ongoing.

A government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government supports the approach being taken to provide people with health information from NHS-led sources.

“We recommend the use of NHS inform as Scotland's national health information service, for Scottish-specific, quality-assured health information.”

A recent report by a committee of MSPs found many Scots wanted to see the NHS using tech more and were willing to share data so they can access information and book appointments online.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of GPs says the Amazon plans have “potential” but could lead to a “digital divide” among patients.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “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.

"While some patients might want to use symptom-checkers in this way, not everyone will be happy to do so and many people will not be able to afford the expense of this equipment, thus widening health inequalities and making access to care even harder for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”