The internet is full of terrible health advice, and yet many people are loathe to actually make an appointment with the doctors. Combining these two unfortunate facts into health policy, Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant now offers official health advice direct from the NHS website, as well as playing your music, managing your day and telling you cracker jokes.
The good news is it shouldn’t throw up any alarming conspiracy theory nonsense about whether people should get vaccinated. “I want people to get the best medical advice that says 'yes', rather than the sort of spurious stuff that turns up on the internet and randomly is put up the algorithms,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
(Although if you’re conspiratorially minded, an Amazon-built device issuing government-backed guidance might not be the thing to set your mind at ease.)
Still, for everyone else it seems like it’s good news, and it has already been cautiously welcomed by the Royal College of GPs. “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,” said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the group.
But while stating that NHS Choices is “one of the most reliable online sources for health advice, symptom and treatment information”, Professor Stokes-Lampard added that Dr Echo’s role in healthcare would have to be closely monitored. “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.”
That assumes that it works as intended, and millions of households don’t end up playing the music of The Cure by mistake, of course.
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