Alexa just got another update that, once again, is perhaps as creepy as it is helpful. The voice assistant can now offer basic health advice based on your symptoms, kind of like what you'd get out of WedMD.
And like searching the ever-daunting WebMD, this new feature appears to be a broader extension for all kinds of basic health conditions. If you want to know what your fever, rash, stomachache, runny nose, or headache mean, Alexa might be able to provide some information.
When you say, "Alexa, check my symptoms," the assistant replies, "I can help you understand what your symptoms mean by asking you a series of questions developed by medical experts at Amazon Care." Alexa then advises this skill isn't a substitute for professional medical care, and asks whether you want to continue.
Thus begins a game of 20 questions to develop your health profile and get a picture of what's bothering you. Alexa offers to define symptoms and can even identify when symptoms might be connected, or what might've caused them.
Currently, Alexa doesn't have the ability to call 911 for you in case of a true medical emergency (or any emergency, period.) One of the best Alexa skills, Ask My Buddy, alerts your emergency contacts when something might be wrong. But in the instances you're not sure whether you need to see a doctor urgently, using the symptom-checker skill could prove useful.
Alexa could already use prompts to screen you for Covid-19, so this new feature appears to be a broader extension for all kinds of basic health conditions. It also leverages Amazon Care, which is the company's on-demand telehealth platform that can connect users with clinicians.
I cannot emphasis this enough: you should not diagnose yourself based on what you hear from your voice assistant. But from a quick test of the skill, Alexa's symptom-checker doesn't come off as pessimistic or matter-of-fact as WebMD about understanding why you might be feeling a certain way.
Health data is highly sensitive, so privacy is an immediate concern when learning about this symptom-checking feature. First, the feature is optional. You also don't have to engage in any questions you don't feel comfortable answering. If you know how to use Alexa, you probably know you can tell Alexa to delete anything you've said at any time too.
I've done enough WebMD-ing in my day to know a headache is probably just dehydration and a runny nose is usually allergies. But it could be helpful in pinch to see whether the severity of my symptoms grows over the course of a few days, or if a weird rash I haven't seen before should send me to the dermatologist.
The Alexa symptom checker is available now on the best Alexa speakers, best smart displays with Alexa or the Alexa app on your smartphone. We made a guide on how to add the Alexa widget to your iPhone if you haven't already.