Patients can now access health information through voice-assisted technology, as part of a partnership between the NHS and Amazon.
However, the RCGP has warned that while the idea is interesting, it has the potential to put ‘more pressure’ on GPs.
Patients can now ask for NHS information through Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa, which the NHS has said will allow people ‘better control of their healthcare’, particularly those who cannot access the internet through conventional means.
The algorithm from Amazon will use information from the NHS website to answer questions such as: ‘Alexa how do I treat a migraine?’ ‘Alexa what are the symptoms of flu?’.
But RCGP chair Helen Stokes-Lampard said it was ‘vital’ that independent research was done to make sure the advice given is safe.
She 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 that can be safely treated at home.
‘NHS Choices (nhs.uk) is already one of the most reliable online sources for health advice, symptom and treatment information, and many people are familiar with voice-assisted technology and feel comfortable using it. Combining the two could be an effective way of accessing information about your health without leaving your home – thereby freeing up more GP appointments for those patients who need them most.
‘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.’
She added: ‘Technology can be brilliant, when used appropriately, and it is playing an increasingly important part in the way we deliver care to our patients throughout the NHS, but we must be careful not to create a ‘digital divide’ between those patients who can afford it and are able to use it, and those who can’t.’
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare and technology like this is a great example of how people can access reliable, world-leading NHS advice from the comfort of their home, reducing the pressure on our hardworking GPs and pharmacists.
‘Through the NHS Long Term Plan, we want to embrace the advances in technology to build a health and care system that is fit for the future and NHSX will drive this revolution to bring the benefits to every patient, clinician and carer.’
NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould said: ‘The public need to be able to get reliable information about their health easily and in ways they actually use. By working closely with Amazon and other tech companies, big and small, we can ensure that the millions of users looking for health information every day can get simple, validated advice at the touch of a button or voice command.’
It follows the news that NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said digital services would help ease GP shortages.