Amazon Alexa, known simply as Alexa, is a virtual assistant developed by Amazon, first used in the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers developed by Amazon Lab126. The voice-activated assistant is now automatically searching NHS web pages to find answers to medical questions. “The sensitive data holdings of a national healthcare provider like the NHS are a form of ‘critical social infrastructure’,” said Berlin-based tech expert Mathana Stender.
NHS GP David Wrigley asked, among other things, whether the questions asked via Alexa would be encrypted and who would store any data relating to patient queries.
Amazon has said all data would be kept confidential. The NHS has increasingly partnered with private companies to offer access to its services. Notably, Babylon Health, Push Doctor and Now GP all allow video appointments with GPs to be made remotely. Babylon Health, for example, says only patients and staff involved in service provision have access to patient medical records.
It adds that all data is encrypted and held in English data centers. Amazon said multiple layers of authentication would protect the data from UK customers and that all information would be encrypted. Some commentators felt that the service did not present obvious risks to users’ privacy. There was another issue at stake, however. Some pointed out that Amazon is known to have major ambitions in the healthcare industry. During 2018 the firm took a number of steps in this direction – including pairing up with Omron Healthcare to allow a blood pressure monitor to be controlled via Alexa.