The UK's National Health Service is letting patients ask Alexa for medical advice

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The UK's National Health Service (NHS) announced a partnership with Amazon to offer official NHS medical advice to patients through a free skill available to anyone who owns an Alexa-enabled device, per The Guardian.

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The NHS highlighted the new skill as particularly valuable for blind and elderly patients who may have difficulties accessing medical advice online. The NHS also thinks the service could reduce patient demand for care: Over 6 million patientscame through NHS emergency rooms between April 2017 and Mach 2018, a 42% increase over 2006 figures.

The partnership should fortify Amazon's position as the UK's favorite smart speaker and ensure the NHS reaches a broad audience with its digital services:

  • Securing the NHS' support should tighten Alexa's grip on the UK smart speaker market. Amazon has already sold over 100 millionAlexa-enabled devices worldwide, and Alexa smart speakers accounted for 68% of the UK market in 2018, according to eMarketer. Analysts at eMarketer also forecasted that Alexa would lose some of its grip on the market to Google smart speakers in 2019, with Amazon's devices dropping to approximately 64% of the market and Google extending its reach by 3% to secure 30% of the smart speaker pie. However, I (Zach) think that a big partnership with the NHS could help Alexa maintain its position as the UK's favorite smart speaker.
  • And the NHS likely sees Alexa's popularity and low price point as proof the platform is the best channel to reach a wide audience.We've discussed how bringing digital health applications to consumers can be an extremely costly process for healthcare organizations: The average mobile health app costs more than $400,000 over the development lifecycle. While we don't have data on the cost of Alexa skill development, healthcare providers will ultimately want to ensure their digital services are available to the widest possible audience, and given its $25 price point of the Echo combined with substantial early market advantage - Alexa launched three years before Google Home - it's a safe bet that Amazon's voice platform will maintain relevance among consumers through the foreseeable future.
Third-party partnerships will likely remain a critical piece of Amazon's healthcare strategy for Alexa as it looks to fend off the looming threat of Google Assistant. Amazon reigns supreme in the smart speaker market, but in terms of all other smart devices Google Assistant takes the cake with nearly 1 billion devices worldwide compared with Alexa's 100 million.

Google Assistant was also shown to be the most reliablevoice assistant when it comes to providing basic information about medications. However, Amazon's NHS partnership doesn't require Alexa to know everything on its own; instead it will be using a specially developed skill to pull information directly from the NHS.

Amazon has developed Alexa to be a near-ubiquitous platform - built directly into more than 150 devices and compatible with over 28,000 more from thousands of manufacturers - and I think this broad approach to third-party implementation and cross-system integration will be a deciding factor for the tech's adoption in healthcare.

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