RCGP chair sees potential in voice-assisted technology

Chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, has praised the potential of voice-assisted technology after the recently announced NHS partnership.

Health secretary Matt Hancock unveiled the national healthcare service's partnership with voice-assisted technology, allowing for systems to automatically search the official NHS website when UK users ask for health-related advice.

The partnership has been pioneered in the hope it'll reduce demand on the NHS.

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Chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, has praised the potential of voice-assisted technology

Prof Stokes-Lampard said: "This idea is certainly interesting and 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, such as coughs and colds that can be safely treated at home.

"NHS Choices is already one of the most reliable online sources for health advice, symptom and treatment information, and many people are familiar with voice-assisted technology and feel comfortable using it. Combining the two could be an effective way of accessing information about your health without leaving your home – thereby freeing up more GP appointments for those patients who need them most."

However, she was equally keen to stress that these systems must not create a ‘digital divide’ between patients and healthcare providers.

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She explained: "It is vital that independent research is done to ensure that the advice given is safe, otherwise it could prevent people seeking proper medical help and create even more pressure on our overstretched GP service.

"While some patients might want to use symptom-checkers in this way, not everyone will be happy to do so and many people will not be able to afford the expense of this equipment, thus widening health inequalities and making access to care even harder for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

"Technology can be brilliant, when used appropriately, and it is playing an increasingly important part in the way we deliver care to our patients throughout the NHS, 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.

"Patients who are frail often have more complex healthcare needs so it is important that they do not rely on this as their sole source of health advice, but seek the help of a healthcare professional such as a local pharmacist who can give further guidance on whether they need the expert care of a GP for more serious or ongoing symptoms."


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