Technology

AI patient app launched at Alder Hey hospital

Exterior Alder Hey Image copyright Alder Hey
Image caption Alder Hey is the first UK hospital to work with IBM's AI platform Watson

Staff at Alder Hey children's hospital in Liverpool are teaming up with IBM Watson to develop an app to help patients and doctors work better together.

The app will answer any questions which parents and children may have about their hospital stay.

It will also allow children to create a profile so that clinicians know things such as their favourite colour.

Later, it may be used to offer insights into treatments.

Watson is an AI platform that is already advising doctors on treatments in a dozen cancer hospitals in the US, trawling through data - it can read 40 million documents in 15 seconds - to offer insights into possible treatments.

It may eventually do similar things at Alder Hey but is starting with a more simple patient/doctor app, designed to make hospital visits run more smoothly.

The hospital is working with the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) Hartree Centre on developing the app.

For the next few months, hundreds of Alder Hey patients and their parents will be asked a range of questions on everything from parking, to what they would like to eat, to their favourite games and films, and what they want their bedroom to look like.

They will also be asked what questions they have about clinical procedures, general anaesthetic, and surgery. A team of experts from the Hartree Centre and IBM, will use this information to train "Watson" to anticipate and respond to questions from patients and families before they come into hospital.

Mr Iain Hennessey, a paediatric surgeon and director of innovation at Alder Hey, told the BBC: "Helping our patients and their families prepare properly for coming into hospital will really reduce their anxiety and could mean we can get them better and home faster.

"So much of medicine is about looking after people. It is roughly a third of what we do and it is a neglected part. How we communicate with patients hasn't changed much over the last 100 years. A leaflet is seen as cutting edge and a website of patient information is award-winning."

Image copyright Alder Hey
Image caption Patient care is a top priority at Alder Hey

He said that later, the platform may offer "more hardcore diagnostics" but said governance around using patient data was "a nightmare".

"I wanted to get this off the ground quickly and using patient records takes time, is costly and can cause controversy. Alder Hey is famous for caring and that's what I wanted to build on."

Future applications could include summaries of patient notes, spotting trends across the hospital and the AI could even be used to offer treatment and care options.

IBM's European director for Watson, Paul Chong, commented: "I'm thrilled to see IBM Watson technology applied to help doctors and their patients in the effort to improve the lives of children and their families."

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