Rachael Bletchly: Will a hi-tech NHS work better than the one we have?
“Hey, Alexa. I’ve got chest pain and I’m burping lots. Should I go to A&E?”
You’re lying on the sofa after dinner, scared that niggle is a heart attack.
But soon you’ll be able to ask your digital assistant to scan an NHS database and check your symptoms to see if you need to go to hospit
Within seconds Alexa could be telling you: “There are 106 conditions associated with belching and chest pain.
"It may be suggestive of oesophageal disease, angina pectoris or coronary heart disease…”
And you’ll be legging it to A&E before she’s even mentioned “indigestion.”
Because, while consulting Dr Google on your phone or tablet would bring up a similar list, the feeling that you’re “talking” to an NHS expert will have more impact when you’re poorly or scared.
An authoritative voice reinforcing those dicky ticker fears could send you rushing off to casualty when all you need is a couple of Rennies.
It’s a gimmicky idea, announced by new Health Secretary Matt Hancock, which will do nothing to cut needless trips to overstretched A&Es.
Mr Hancock, who once designed his own “Matt Hancock app” told hospital staff on Friday: “I’m the greatest enthusiast of technology on the planet.”
And he’s thrilled at the deal with Amazon to provide advice from the NHS Choices website via chatbots.
It’s part of a £487million “tech transformation” which could see patients getting bar- codes, so they can be tracked, and the end of paper prescriptions.
I agree with Mr Hancock that “the opportunities of new tech, done right across the whole of health and social care, are vast”.
But, as a former trainee nurse this focus on kit over hands-on care makes me feel uneasy. Mr Hancock insists has a “deeply personal” commitment to the NHS because it saved his sister’s life after an accident.
And he’s vowed to champion hard-pressed staff saying low morale is “heartbreaking”.
But more hearts will break if Mr Hancock fails to listen properly to the human voices of the NHS and act on their concerns.
Or if he answer’s them with the annoying cop-out you hear when Alexa can’t do her job either. “Sorry, I’m having trouble understanding you right now.”
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