Patients at one of the UK's biggest children's hospitals are about to be comforted by AI

IBM Alder HeyIBMThe app can help hospital staff to profile patients.

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital announced on Wednesday that it plans to introduce an AI patient app to improve the care it delivers.

The app will allow children to ask questions about everything from the hospital dinner menu to the details of their treatment, The Financial Times reports.

It will be powered by IBM Watson, an AI platform that can read 40 million documents in 15 seconds, according to the BBC.

Watson is already being used to help doctors to treat cancer patients at a dozen US hospitals, providing them with diagnostic and clinical decisions.

But Alder Hey plans to use Watson to support the non-clinical side of the patient experience. The hospital said it may also use Watson to offer insights into treatments at a later stage.

The app is being developed in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Hartree Centre, which is funded by the UK government.

“Through the power of Watson we’re able to allow the child to ask questions about the procedure they’re about to undertake,” said Lee Hannis, head of development at the Hartree Centre in a video promoting the app. “We can then reveal answers in a way which is friendly through an avatar, or through videos or images, just so they get a sense of what’s about to happen to them.

“From a clinician’s point of view, they get to understand what sort of questions the child is asking, so they get insight into how the child is feeling.”

IBM claims the app will enhance patient care and potentially generate savings for both the hospital and the NHS as a whole.

Iain Hennessey, a paediatric surgeon and director of innovation at Alder Hey, said in a statement: “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.”

The AI app is one of the first projects to come out of a wide-ranging £315 million collaboration between IBM and STFC Hartree. The US tech giant is contributing £200 million, while the government has pledged £115 million for research into big data applications. IBM said patients provide feedback through the app on a voluntary basis.

The app comes less than a week after Google DeepMind faced criticism for concealing details about the extent of a data sharing agreement it holds with an NHS Trust that operates three hospitals in London.

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