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May 11, 2016updated 05 Sep 2016 11:46am

IBM Watson helps children in need at UK’s first cognitive hospital

News: Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation Trust will deploy Watson to enhance patient care.

By Ellie Burns

The UK is set to see its first ‘cognitive’ hospital, with IBM providing its Watson technology platform to Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust.

Signalling the first time that Watson will be applied to improve patient experience in the UK, Alder Hey’s multi-year collaborative programme with the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre aims to enhance patient care and save the hospital and NHS money.

IBM Watson will be used to analyse feedback that is voluntarily and securely provided by the patients. Alder Hey hopes the use of Watson will greatly enhance patient experience by; identifying patient anxieties and providing information and reassurance on-demand; reminding young patients and their parents about appointments and about aftercare; and providing insightful feedback to clinicians based on the tone and sentiment of these interactions.

Using these insights generated by Watson, Alder Hey hopes to make a hospital stay for a child less scary and daunting – both in making the service more personalised for the child and being able to identify clinical trends more quickly that could affect patient flow and effectively save money.

Mr Iain Hennessey, a paediatric surgeon and Director of Innovation at Alder Hey said: "This is an unprecedented opportunity for Alder Hey to pilot this groundbreaking technology and learn how to transform IT capability and working practices in healthcare, not just in the UK but across the world. 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."

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: "The healthcare sector is undergoing tremendous development right now, driven by data, digital technologies and cognitive computing. This unique collaboration showcases the UK’s role at the forefront of science, innovation and healthcare, and will make a real difference to the care and experience of patients and clinicians in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital."

The multi-year project is already underway, with an initial version of the platform expected to be ready for testing in the hospital around the end of the year. In the coming months, hundreds of patients and parents will be asked questions ranging from what they like to eat, to their favourite games and films. Questions about clinical procedures, general anaesthetic, and surgery will also be asked, with a team of IBM and Hartree Centre experts then using the information to ‘train’ Watson.

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It is anticipated that Watson will be able to anticipate and respond to questions from patients and families before they come into hospital, as well as provide cognitive analytics that deliver insights enabling the hospital to — in essence — think, sense and feel what is happening within it. Patients and their families at Alder Hey will be able to access this pre-admission to hospital through a digital application on a tablet or smartphone, such as a mobile app. The app is being developed in parallel to the cognitive hospital, using funds raised by Alder Hey Children’s Charity.

There are expected to be many applications of the platform – from driving research projects and bed planning, to matching suitable patients to clinical studies.

IBM European Director for Watson, Paul Chong, commented: "This is a significant milestone in our collaboration with the STFC Hartree Centre. Alder Hey Children’s Hospital has set a truly inspiring vision for the future of paediatric care. 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."

This project with the Hartree Centre, which is part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and based at Sci-Tech Daresbury in Cheshire, is backed by a £115.5 million commitment from Government announced in 2015 and is a joint collaboration with IBM to help UK industry achieve competitive advantage and to benefit from the latest cognitive computing technologies.

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