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Amazon's Alexa will reduce pharmacists' pressure, claims Matt Hancock

Amazon's Alexa algorithm will use information from the NHS website to answer health questions
Amazon's Alexa algorithm will use information from the NHS website to answer health questions

The NHS collaboration with Amazon’s voice-assisted technology will help to “reduce the pressure” on pharmacists, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.

As part of the collaboration, people will be able to access “NHS-verified health information in seconds” via internet giant Amazon’s voice-activated device, Alexa, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) announced today (July 10).

People will be able to ask questions around common illnesses, such as: "Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?" and "Alexa, what are the symptoms of flu?", and receive health information from the NHS website – formerly the NHS Choices website, the DH explained.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said this technology will “empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare”, thereby “reducing the pressure on our hardworking GPs and pharmacists”.

As part of the NHS long-term planpublished in January – the commissioning body pledged to make more NHS services available digitally. The Amazon Alexa partnership supports this commitment, the DH said.

RPS: Internet is like “wild west”

Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said while information from the NHS website being relayed by Alexa will “widen access” to high quality advice, the internet is “like the wild west” when it comes to health advice.

It will “never replace the importance of a face-to-face consultation”, he stressed.

“Seeing a pharmacist, with their expert training and knowledge, enables the patient to ask follow up questions and ensure they receive more personalised care.”

16 Comments
Question: 
Do you think Amazon Alexa will reduce pressure in your pharmacy?

A B, Community pharmacist

It might not be long before this is a reality:

"Alexa, order my medication"

Medication dropped off (maybe even the same day) by courier or drone.

Let's hope the new contract offers something worth doing other than dispensing.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Patient X : Alexa I have an itch on my back, what should I do?

Alexa: Don't just lie down on sofa and waste my time, go and see the Pharmacist.

This would be the perfect conversation I would like.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

And in somewhat related news, more Well Pharmacies are going into a consultation period with their HR departments, which means cutting staffing hours in their branches to account for the workload reduction expected by Central Fulfilment.

I think this is a positive move, because it increases accessibility to information. But, it increases accessibility for those who’ve already adopted Alexa and other technologies, I do doubt that it’s been taken up by large swathes of the population via echo devices even if Amazon shopping is now ubiquitous in the UK (if you aren’t using them try prime and an amazon locker delivery you’ll never look back). 

i'm not surprised this opinion doesn't go down well in a crowd of a deeply conservative profession, optimism in the sight of potential progress isn't an option these days is it.

A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

amazon will simply use the nhs websites for their information - anyone with a smartphone will do that anyway. All that will happen will the patient will have half of the information probably confusing them more

A N, Community pharmacist

I wonder which company will have an Alexa app first to order meds....

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Oh, most definitely Amazon.

Joan Richardson, Locum pharmacist

Having been entertained last weekend by my neighbours shouting at aAlexa to get the music playing changed I'm now looking forward to listening to intimate details of their medical issues!  Alexa I've got thrush - feed it mealworms!

 

Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

Heard it all now. 

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Few questions to the soon to be gone minister

1. Is DHSC funding for Alexa to be installed in each and every household of the UK (or England) ?? If so what is the cost compared to funding a proper Pharmacy Contract?

2. Will all housholds be given free access to a super fast Broadband (for alexa to work) Again, if yes what is the cost?

3. Will Amazon and DHSC take responsibility for any wrong advice given by Alexa?? If yes what is the cost of the indemnity isnurance??

If NO to any or all of the questions then just dump such nonsensical ideas and get on with properly funding the existing, reliable and most widely used services, unless someone is offered a lucrative position at the Amazon HQ in the USA, something like Facebook's offering reminds me of someone.

Sachin Badiani, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

Not my answer, but these seem plausible:

1) Take money away from pharmacy, and pay Amazon to install these in every home.

2) Yes they will get superfast broadband paid for by the government. Yet, the pharmacy will have to pay for their access to the NHS line.

3) Shrug shoulders if anything wrong happens...

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

 

Seriously for  moment - all we get is "Pharmacy is an untapped reasource" and we should support self care. Next thing, it's 'Let's take the pressure off our Pharmacists'. Maybe paying us properly would take some off the pressure off!

 

Ben Merriman, Community pharmacist

What the actual what?

Keith McElrea, Pharmaceutical Adviser

They need to be very careful with this, while Alexa is a great service, it’s very far removed from artificial general intelligence and has no diagnosis skills whatsoever.  Pharmacists up and down the country pick up the early warning signs of mouth and skin cancers everyday with patients presenting for a tube of bongela.  Alexa can’t ask them to open their mouth and have a look and say no, I think you need to see a doctor about that.  Or have a look at a rash and say, no that’s not fungal it looks like shingles. 

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

People will get the healthcare they deserve. Put your trust in Amazon/Google etc at your peril

Freelance Chemist, Pre-reg Pharmacist

Writing is in the walls folks...... ship is gaining water.....

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