Alder Hey children's hospital in Liverpool is using the cutting edge of artificial intelligence to deliver better care, writes Chris Maguire.

Innovation director Iain Hennessey, who is also a paediatric surgeon, works with big and small tech firms, VCs and innovators.

It’s through this partnership that Alder Hey has teamed up with IBM Watson to develop an app to help patients and doctors work better together.

Watson is an AI platform and the app - developed with help from Shop Direct fundraisers - will answer questions from parents and children about their hospital stay.

“There are hundreds of examples where artificial intelligence could be used,” he told BusinessCloud. “It could be used for curating our data resources.”

It’s all part of Hennessey’s wish to use technology to create a “living hospital” at Alder Hey.

“At the moment hospitals are buildings which have doctors and patients in them but what if you could make them a living place?” he asked, the excitement tangible in his voice.

“To do that you would have to give it certain attributes like a brain and sensory system what knows what’s going on. It needs a holistic heart to do it.

"What I’d like in 20 years’ time is that you come into this hospital and the hospital is doing optical sensing so it can see what temperature you have.”

Hennessey said he finds it depressing that the technology to manage his patients lags way behind consumer tech such as iTunes.

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Hennessey, right, has a dual role

The father-of-three says by creating a living hospital you wouldn’t waste the knowledge and expertise that are currently being lost when experienced doctors retire.

“I want to automate the bottom 15 per cent of decisions that we make,” he said. “I want to get rid of the stupid mistakes.

"You can live with the mistakes that get made in the heat of the moment when you make the wrong call. It’s a difficult decision and you made the wrong decision.

“On the other hand, if a mistake happens for a stupid reason, like it was labelled left instead of right, or someone is given the wrong type of blood for a blood transfusion, then that’s very hard to live with. That should not happen and you can’t explain it.

“Humans are fallible. Humans make decisions by ignoring things. We pick out the most important features and ignore the rest. Computers and technology have the benefit of being able to assimilate all the data and all the little things.

"We should be working in conjunction with technology and computers.”

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Hennessey during our interview

Hennessey is passionate about Big Data and says it can improve the overall quality of care.

“How do you take the vast amount of sensor data that we have in the  hospital, get it  into electronic patient records and get it into a format that is visual so that we can make decisions on it?” he asked.

“We have data overload. We have too much data everywhere but we’re still wasting a lot of data and we’re not recording a lot of data that is coming in. We need to make better use of the data we have.
 
“You want an early warning system. You want a warning that something is going wrong before it actually happens. If I see a patient for the first time I have to make a decision on whether they’re ill or well.

"Really it’s the direction of travel you want to know, not the static image. The way I do that at the moment is I ask mum and dad because they’ve seen the patient all the time and they have a good instinct.

"What you want is a system that has all the previous data from all their previous admissions (and can identify trends).”

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Alder Hey

Hennessey is a passionate man and says it’s ridiculous that the NHS spends thousands of pounds on treating a patient but sends them an appointment letter in the post.

“Children are now so digitally native that when you give them a bit of paper they think ‘this is interesting. Is it for colouring in?’’ he said.

“The way we arrange appointments is I send them a letter saying ‘I’ll see them at this date, time and place and we will discuss things’. 

“We didn’t arrange this meeting today with a letter. You pinged me a meeting invite on email. That is how we do things in a modern era. If you give a child a leaflet, they’ll chuck it. You need to engage with them better.”

Our interview took place in the state-of-the-art Innovation Hub in the grounds of Alder Hey Hospital, which aims to create an environment where “ideas can be turned into reality”.

It brings the likes of IBM and Sony together with VCs and the NHS to come up with pioneering technology.

“You create a charged atmosphere and lightning ensues,” Hennessey said.

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