The National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K. has teamed up with Amazon to provide medical advice for a variety of ailments, in an effort to cut down on hospital costs, according to a report by Reuters.
Amazon’s artificial intelligence (AI)-powered voice assistant Alexa will offer advice on things like chickenpox, migraines and the flu. The hope is that people, especially those who are elderly, blind or don’t have regular internet access, can get NHS-sanctioned information and potentially reduce doctor visits.
Some experts, however, are worried that older people may be intimidated by the technology, as they are used to getting medical information through other means.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said the devices would help but elderly need support on learning how to use them.
“Older people still have traditional ways of getting the right information and advice, such as face to face and telephone support,” Abrahams said.
She added that about 5 million people over the age of 65 have never used the internet.
Amazon has been making moves into the healthcare field. Last year, it bought online pharmacy PillPack, and recently partnered with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase on an initiative to cut health care costs in the U.S. for hundreds of thousands of employees.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people all over the U.K. were already asking Alexa for health advice, so he wanted to ensure that they were getting the best advice possible. He added that it would have stringent privacy rules regarding patient confidentiality.
“There is a clear protocol in place that Amazon has and that we have in the NHS,” he told BBC radio.
Many British people trust the NHS highly, and it provides health security with everything from checkups to surgery. However, it’s increasingly under pressure to balance growing patient needs with budgetary concerns.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, which are family doctors in Britain, said that the Alexa partnership could help alleviate some pressure on doctors.
“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,” she said. “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.”