Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation Trust has unveiled a multi-year collaboration with the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Hartree Centre, supported by IBM, to create the UK first 'cognitive' hospital using an artificial intelligence platform.

In a UK first, the partners said they plan to harness 'big data' and the power of IBM's Watson - a cognitive technology that processes information more like a human than a computer - to improve the experiences of patients visiting the hospital and generate savings.

It is believed that using Watson to analyse any feedback will help Alder Hey "greatly enhance patient experience" by: identifying anxieties and providing information and reassurance on-demand; reminding young patients and their parents about appointments/aftercare; and providing insightful feedback to clinicians based on the tone and sentiment of these interactions.

The hospital said it will use insights from Watson to make a hospitable stay for a child less daunting, by providing a more personalised service while also being able to identify clinical trends more quickly that could affect patient flow and effectively make significant cost savings.

The first stage of the project is now underway, with an initial version of the platform 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 being asked a range of questions on everything from parking, to what they would like to eat, to their favourite games and films, as well as what questions they have about clinical procedures, general anaesthetic, and surgery.

A team of experts from the Hartree Cognitive team, made up of the Hartree Centre and IBM, will then use this information to train 'Watson' to anticipate and respond to questions from patients and families before they come into hospital. Using this data, Watson will then provide cognitive analytics that deliver insights enabling the hospital to 'think', sense and feel what is happening within it.

In future, other potential applications of the platform may include matching patients with research projects, monitoring admission patterns or helping management of chronic illnesses through educational applications which could alert patients and their doctors when their symptoms reach the point at which they should seek medical help, the Trust noted.

"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," said Iain Hennessey, a paediatric surgeon and Director of Innovation at the Trust. "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."

Also welcoming the project, Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson noted that the healthcare sector "is undergoing tremendous development right now, driven by data, digital technologies and cognitive computing," and that the unique collaboration "showcases the UK's role at the forefront of science, innovation and healthcare, and will make a real difference to the care and experience of patients and clinicians in Alder Hey Children's Hospital."