When the announcement of a tie up between Amazon Alexa and the NHS was made Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare and 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.”
Concerns have been raised in relation to clinical governance, clinical risk management, data protection and the legal aspects of this concept. This is an important debate and further discussion should be encouraged in order to satisfy clinicians, patients and the public that all potential pitfalls have been addressed.
It’s worth pointing out at this stage that Amazon Alexa is voice search – it’s not interactive. However, now that Amazon Alexa is opening up access to trusted health information from the NHS to the smart home environment, it is only a matter of time before this extends to symptom checkers.
In a previous blog, I have written about the confusion between remote self-triage and symptom checkers. Both digital tools are important and are here to stay. Using digital technology not only relieves pressure on existing healthcare services it ensures people get timely and appropriate treatment.
It’s likely that the next generation of triage will make greater use of personalisation. Data can already be used to improve personalisation and make sure patients who are at risk of hospital admission are prevented through improved care in the community.
This means using data to predict which patients are most at risk. There is nothing new in this concept, but as we develop better data from community services the NHS will have greater insight.
If our aim is to keep people living well and independently for longer, one of the ways we can do this is through personalisation. Community intelligence will drive the next stage of personalisation and this extends to the built environment, the social environment the natural environment, social care services and mental health services. They should all come together with data around the individual.
Some of the work we are doing with our NHS customers is helping them to gain a better understanding of their communities/members by piecing together information from many different sources. Alexa might have a role to play in personalisation as it will increase the breadth of personal information as long as this information is securely managed within frameworks like GDPR.
There is a great deal of potential with community data and it will help with predictive analytics and risk stratification. We should be in a position where we know what is happening now and can compare this to what will happen in the future. The question is what plans does Matt Hancock have for greater personalisation and how can we assist with this? He regularly extols the importance of data insight and digital technology, but next steps will be crucial to improving outcomes.
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Authors: Dr Charles Young, Stuart Bailey