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Feature Artificial Intelligence

Alder Hey’s “cognitive hospital” aims to turn NHS use of AI on its head

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: (Published 10 September 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3791
  1. Stephen Armstrong, freelance journalist, London, UK
  1. stephen.armstrong{at}

The pioneering children’s health service believes artificial intelligence can be put to better use in health, and is developing its site as a “living organism,” reports Stephen Armstrong

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital has a history of pioneering medical advances; it was the first hospital to test penicillin in 1914, for instance, and the first to establish a neonatal surgical unit.1 Now, it is developing a wide ranging artificial intelligence (AI) programme—and the focus differs greatly from the way this technology is generally being applied in the NHS.

When its new hospital was built in 2014-15, Alder Hey commissioned a children and young people’s design group to envisage an ideal hospital.2 The result—a three pronged, grass covered, gently sloping building in the heart of a Liverpool park—allows 70% of patients to have private rooms with windows overlooking acres of green space; it was named BBC Building of the Decade in May.3

Alder Hey’s next step has been to create a “cognitive hospital,” using AI to support every aspect of the hospital’s work. “We tried to imagine what would be the most technologically advanced hospital you can think of,” explains Iain Hennessey, consultant paediatric and neonatal surgeon, and clinical director of Alder Hey Innovation Hub. “The idea was to think of the hospital as a living organism with a brain, a sensory system collecting data, and a way of caring for families.”

Alder Hey’s AI project will eventually oversee logistics, supply chains, and diagnostics. This spring it formally launched its first step: an AI powered patient app and webpage called Alder Play,4 allowing incoming patients to ask questions of a chatbot, see 360 photos of the hospital, and watch videos of children explaining procedures.5

Patients choose …

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