Alexa now can look beyond 1-source answers to users’ health queries
- People searching for health-related information can now ask Amazon’s Alexa for an answer from WebMD.
- The service, launched Tuesday, allows users of Alexa-enabled devices like Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Amazon Fire TV to access WebMD’s health information library and get answers to questions about conditions, drugs, diagnostic tests, side effects, symptoms and treatments.
- In addition to the voice response capabilities, developed by the WebMD product team, users can request that additional information be sent via text to their Alexa app.
More people are turning to online sources for their medical queries. Nearly half (49%) of Americans are comfortable using online tools to understand their symptoms and decide if they need medical care, according to a 2012 survey by Philips North America. Google says about 1% of its searches are health-related and it announced in 2016 plans to work with Mayo Clinic and the Harvard Medical School to improve its symptom searches.
“Every month, nearly one-third of the total online U.S. population turns to WebMD’s websites and apps in search of answers to their health-related questions,” WebMD Vice President Ben Greenberg said in a statement. Alexa users can now search for information using questions like “Alexa, ask WebMD to tell me about type 2 diabetes,” and “Alexa, ask WebMD how to treat a sore throat,” according to WebMD. Alexa devices will respond with physician-reviewed answers in everyday language.
As symptom searches become more sophisticated, doctors are beginning to encourage their patients to use them and some hospitals are offering them on patient portals. Millennials and younger consumers also like the convenience of online health search tools like WebMD and Symptom Checker.
However, older Americans have not been as willing to seek health information online. In a report published last summer in the Journal of the American Medical Association, only 18% of Medicare beneficiaries participating in the National Health and Aging Trends Study sought health information online in 2014.
And when in doubt, it’s probably best to still see a doctor about worrisome health issues. A recent study by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Brigham & Women’s Hospital and The Human Diagnosis Project suggests physicians are more than twice as likely as algorithms to nail down a diagnosis.