IBM Watson-powered app aims to make hospital visits less daunting for young patients

Cognitive computing will be used for an app which is the first part of a broader project at Alder Hey Hospital.
Written by Danny Palmer, Senior Writer

IBM will analyse data from everything to surgical procedures to favourite films will be analysed to make children's hospital visits as stress-free as possible.

Image: STFC

IBM Watson's cognitive computing power is set to be deployed in a UK NHS hospital for the first time in an effort to use artificial intelligence and big data to improve patient experience -- by using a mobile app.

It isn't the first time IBM Watson has been applied to healthcare, but it's the first time the technology is set to be used in the UK.

Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool will collaborate with the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) Hartree Centre -- an institution which aims to accelerate the application of high performance computing and data science -- and IBM Watson in an effort to develop the UK's first 'cognitive' hospital.

The multi-year project will see Alder Hey apply IBM Watson's cognitive computing capabilities to analyse data gathered on patient feedback about their hospital experience.

The aim is to make the experience of visiting hospital a less daunting experience for child patients, by analysing data and using it to provide personalised services while also providing paediatricians with extra information on how to deal with children.

Ultimately, the scheme is designed to provide patients with a more efficient service, while also cutting costs.

"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," said Iain Hennessey, a pediatric surgeon and director of innovation at Alder Hey.

The first stage of the project is already underway, with an experimental version of the cognitive computing platform expected to be ready for testing within the NHS hospital by the end of this year. Over the course of the next few months, Alder Hey patients -- and their parents -- will be asked a series of questions about their experience at the hospital.

Everything from questions about clinical care, to kids' favourite foods, films, and games will be considered. All of that information will then be analysed by a team of experts from Hartree Centre and IBM to 'train' Watson to anticipate questions from families and answer them before the hospital visit.

Patients and their families will have access to an application for smartphones and tablets prior to admission at the hospital, in a move designed to make the experience less intimidating for the children.

"Familiarizing patients with the hospital and procedure they are about to undertake will help reduce the anxiety of patients and their parents or caregivers. Our aims are to improve the quality of the precious time patients have with clinical staff and extend the care before and after the patient visit," said Lee Hannis, head of business development at STFC's Hartree Centre.

"We are extremely excited about applying these new computing techniques to help improve the experience and quality of care provided at Alder Hey Children's Hospital and look forward to seeing the early interactions between the children and the hospital in coming months," he added.

In addition to improving patient care, IBM and Alder Hey believe the use of cognitive computing capabilities could be applied to various other projects throughout the hospital, such as driving research projects, monitoring admissions, or even managing illnesses to such an extent that an application could recommend when to visit a doctor -- or even to automatically book an appointment when this is necessary.

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