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UK health service signs up Amazon

'Alexa, my head hurts'
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'Alexa, my head hurts'

The UK government said Wednesday that Britons will be able to get an answer to this and other simple medical questions from the National Health Service (NHS) using their Amazon smart speakers.

The state-run health system's tie-up with the US-based technology giant drew praise from overworked doctors and professionals weary of bad medical advice proliferating online.

How it will work
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How it will work

Using Amazon's algorithms, Alexa will answer voice questions from users about common maladies such as the flu or chickenpox with information verified by the National Health Service.

Amazon said it began updating its Echo smart speakers to search NHS websites for medical answers at the start of the week.

The UK health department said it expected half of all symptom checks and other medical queries to be made through voice-assisted technology by next year.

It added that the new and more reliable service would be especially helpful to the elderly and the blind.

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Some like it
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Some like it

Health professionals also welcomed the government's embrace of shifting consumer habits and the growing dominance of voice services.

"However, it is vital that independent research is done to ensure that the advice given is safe," Royal College of GPs chairwoman Helen Stokes-Lampard said.

"Otherwise it could prevent people seeking proper medical help and create even more pressure on our overstretched GP service."

Agencies
Privacy concerns
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Privacy concerns

Some privacy campaigners also pointed out that Amazon stores users' voice recordings in their own data centres.

"Encouraging the public to give their private health details to one of the most aggressive corporate data guzzlers is astonishingly misguided," Britain's Big Brother Watch civil liberties group director Silkie Carlo said.

"Healthcare is made inaccessible when trust and privacy is stripped away, and that's what this terrible plan would do," Carlo said.

"It's a data protection disaster waiting to happen."

Reuters
Data will be kept confidential
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Data will be kept confidential

The new service is being billed by the UK government as a world-first.

The government also points out that Amazon will not be able to access Britons' medical records.

The NHS website offers basic advice on thousands of medical conditions and is one of the most popular symptom checkers in the world.

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