Young patients at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital to have a less daunting experience with the help of IBM’s Watson technology platform

Technology giant IBM (NYSE: IBM) revealed on Wednesday that it will support an innovative multi-year collaborative programme undertaken by Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre, to create the UK’s first ‘cognitive’ hospital.

This programme will harness ‘big data’ and the power of IBM’s Watson technology platform to enhance patient care, as well as potentially generate savings for both the hospital and the UK National Health Service (NHS) as a whole. The project is backed by a GBP115.5m commitment from UK government that was announced in 2015 and is a joint collaboration with IBM to help the UK industry to achieve competitive advantage and to benefit from the latest cognitive computing technologies.

Watson computing technology will be applied to analyse any feedback that is voluntarily and securely provided by the patients, with appropriate consent as needed. Alder Hey is expected to be able to greatly enhance the patient experience by identifying patient anxieties and providing information and reassurance on-demand. The technology will also remind young patients and their parents about appointments and aftercare, as well as providing insightful feedback to clinicians based on the tone and sentiment of these interactions. With this valuable insight, clinicians at Alder Hey will be able to provide a personalised service, making a hospitable stay for a child less daunting, while also being able to identify clinical trends more quickly that could affect patient flow and effectively make significant cost savings.

This first stage of this new approach to enabling patient-centered hospital care is underway and an initial version of the platform is expected to be ready for testing in the hospital around the end of the year. Over the next few months, hundreds of Alder Hey patients and their parents will be asked questions on subjects such as parking, what they like to eat, to their favorite games and films and how they would like their bedroom to be decorated. The survey will also ask questions how the patients feel about clinical procedures, general anesthetic and surgery.

IBM added that a team of experts from the Hartree Cognitive team, made up of 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. The data will enable Watson to provide cognitive analytics, providing the hospital with a sense and feel of what is happening within it. Alder Hey patients and their families 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.

Paediatric surgeon and director of Innovation at Alder Hey, Iain Hennessey, 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.”

Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust is one of four standalone children’s hospitals in the UK and is a national centre for neuro and craniofacial surgery, a regional centre for burns injuries and a Centre of Excellence for children with cancer, heart, spinal and brain disease. The hospital provides care for over 275,000 children and young people annually and is supported by The Alder Hey Children’s Charity which aims to raise vital funds for lifesaving equipment, research projects and patient experience initiatives.