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Royal Free enters five-year partnership with Google’s DeepMind

A landmark partnership has been announced between Royal Free London NHS FT and the artificial intelligence arm of Google – DeepMind – which the trust says could save lives and dramatically improve patient safety.

The five-year agreement will see the development of a mobile clinical app called Streams which will notify nurses and doctors immediately when test results show a patient is at risk of deteriorating.

The partnership believes that once Streams is developed it will speed up the time to alert clinicians of patients in need and free up over half a million hours a year for patient care, equivalent to having a new 150 nurses on call.

David Sloman, chief executive of the Royal Free London, said: “We are hugely excited by the opportunity this partnership presents to patients and staff. We want to lead the way in healthcare technology and this new clinical app will enable us to provide safer and faster care to patients – which will save lives.

“Doctors and nurses currently spend far too much time on paperwork, and we believe this technology could substantially reduce this burden, enabling doctors and nurses to spend more time on what they do best - treating patients.”

Since work on Streams started just over a year ago, a prototype version of the app has been designed to help clinicans detect acute kidney injury (AKI) at its earliest stages. It is estimated that treating AKI costs the NHS over £1bn a year. 

The prototype has now been tested and registered with the MHRA and will now be deployed across Royal Free Hospital sites early next year. Over the next five years, additional features will be added to Streams such as clinical task management, allowing it to be used to support patients at risk of other illnesses such as sepsis and organ failure.

It is estimated that at least 10,000 people a year die in UK hospitals through preventable causes. It is also believed that 40% of patients could avoid being admitted to hospital if the right clinician was able to take the right action sooner, as the partnership hopes to aid with Streams.

Stephen Powis, medical director at Royal Free London, added that clinicians face real challenges when it comes to detecting conditions like AKI, “as patients deteriorate rapidly and it can be hours before this is picked up due to the limitations of current NHS technology and the reliance on manual observations and intuition”.

“This is about bringing information to doctors and nurses, much in the way we get news alerts on our phones,” he said. “We know that a quarter  of deaths from AKI are preventable if clinicians are able to intervene earlier and more effectively.”

In order to keep patient information secure, the partnership will also introduce an unprecedented level of data security, with all data access logged and subject to review by both parties. A new infraustructure being built by Ben Laurie, one of the world’s best security engineers and co-founder of the OpenSSL project, will also allow the Royal Free London to perform ongoing audits.

The infrastructure that powers Streams is intentionally built on open standards, which will allow other developers to build new services more easily for the Royal Free London in the future. It is hoped that this will dramatically help the NHS gain support from external developers.

Professor Keith McNeil, NHS chief clinical information officer, said that the health and care system “stands poised to harness the power of information and technology to substantially improve the care we provide to patients and to promote world class health outcomes”.

“We cannot do this alone and we need to work with world leading partners, and I am delighted that the Royal Free are going to be able to use the brilliant technology and innovation offered by a partner of the stature of DeepMind to help deliver better, safer care to their patients,” he added.

The Royal Free London was recently named a ‘global exemplar’ in health technology by the Department of Health, with the trust pledging to invest in technology, digital infrastructure and training for staff in order to make its services more efficient.

Professor Jane Dacre, preside of the Royal College of Physicians,  added that the new partnership offers exciting possibilities for improved care for patients and more efficient systems for physicians to work with.


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