Alexa will soon be able to diagnose patients’ symptoms to help ease the burden on doctors and hospitals.
A partnership with the NHS means the Amazon digital assistant will be able to answer questions such as “Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?” by searching the official health service website.
Until now, Alexa would answer people’s health questions based on a variety of popular responses.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, claimed the move will help patients, especially the elderly, blind and those who are unable to access the internet in other ways, take more control of their healthcare and help reduce the burden on the NHS.
However, despite welcoming the move, the Royal College of GPs warned that independent research must be carried out to ensure the advice given is safe.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, 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.
“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.”
Adi Latif, who is registered blind, is a consultant at AbilityNet, a charity which helps disabled people use technology.
The 38-year-old, from Camden, north London, uses Amazon Alexa and other voice-assisted technology for everyday tasks.
He said: “Convenience is king and it’s brilliant to know I can ask Alexa about various illnesses and receive credible, NHS-verified information.
“It cuts out all the searching online, which can be a traumatic experience for many people – especially those who are disabled or not familiar with technology.”
The new partnership has been spearheaded by NHSX, which launched earlier this month and aims to make health services available to patients via digital technology.
Tech experts predict that by 2020 half of all searches for information will be via voice-assisted technology.