Could you be diagnosed by Dr Alexa?

Diagnosed by Dr Alexa: Smart speakers will be joined to the NHS website under new plans to create a virtual doctor with expert-checked advice

  • The NHS Choices website will join up with Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker
  • Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock will give his first speech today
  • The partnership will ensure people have access to quality health information 

People could soon be diagnosed by Dr Alexa in their own living room as the NHS announces plans to join up with Amazon to create a virtual doctor.

New Government Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, will today announce plans to connect Amazon Echo smart speakers to the NHS website.

This will give the hi-tech gadgets – which answer questions out loud when spoken to – access to accurate medical information checked by NHS experts.

The voice-activated technology speaks to owners as an artificial intelligence character named Alexa, and could soon have a wealth of health knowledge to hand.

Government minister Hancock will say in a speech today the partnership will give people peace of mind that the health advice they receive is from a reliable source.

The Amazon Echo speaker is a revolutionary technology which obeys spoken commands and can answer owners’ questions using information from the internet

While Alexa is already able to answer people’s questions there is no guarantee of the quality of information it uses from the web.

By joining forces with the NHS, Hancock will say, owners can be sure their Amazon device is using facts provided by the health service when answering questions about their wellbeing.

The NHS Choices website offers a huge range of information about the signs, symptoms and treatments of all kinds of illnesses, infections and diseases.

This development could mean that when people ask the device a question such as ‘why do I have a headache’, the device can check the NHS website for causes of headaches before answering the question.

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The Government hopes giving people the option to try and diagnose minor ailments within their own homes could relieve pressure on the NHS.  

‘We are working with Amazon so NHS Choices health information can be tailored for voice-activated devices,’ Mr Hancock will say, The Sun reports.

‘Currently, if you ask Alexa about your back pain, you don’t know where the answer will be sourced from.

‘People will receive expert advice prepared by the NHS’ 


Artificial intelligence (AI) systems rely on artificial neural networks (ANNs), which try to simulate the way the brain works in order to learn.

ANNs can be trained to recognise patterns in information – including speech, text data, or visual images – and are the basis for a large number of the developments in AI over recent years.

Conventional AI ‘teaches’ a computer about a particular subject by feeding it massive amounts of information.

Practical applications include Google’s language translation services, Facebook’s facial recognition software and Snapchat’s image-altering live filters.

The process of inputting this data can be extremely time consuming, and is limited to one type of knowledge.

A new breed of ANNs called Adversarial Neural Networks pits the wits of two AI bots against each other, which allows them to learn from each other.

This approach is designed to speed up the process of learning, as well as improving the quality of AI gadgets.

‘We will change this so questions of this sort will mean you receive the expert advice prepared by the NHS.’

There are also plans to develop official symptom-checking technology with other smart speakers such as the Google Home and Apple HomePod.

The speakers work using artificial intelligence which is technology that can learn and remember new information over time.

New Health and Social Care Secretary will make first speech today 

Matt Hancock’s announcement is expected to come during his first speech as Health and Social Care Secretary at West Suffolk Hospital later today.  

He is also expected to push for a technology revolution in healthcare, including using barcodes to track patients and smartphone apps to check their symptoms at home.   

Mr Hancock – who took over from Jeremy Hunt two weeks ago – will promise to spent £500 million to ‘transform’ technology in the NHS, much of which is out-of-date.

‘Our health system can become the most advanced in the world’ 

Only last week surgeons warned how many hospitals were still reliant on fax machines while others were using 15-year-old computer systems. 

In his first speech since becoming health secretary, Mr Hancock will say: ‘Because we are one NHS, our health system is uniquely placed to become the most advanced health system in the world.

‘One where technology addresses the user need – making care better for patients, but just as importantly making life easier for staff.

‘The patient safety agenda is important to me and I strongly believe that technology has the power further enhance safety and improve outcomes for patients.’           

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