Google's UK AI subsidiary DeepMind partners with NHS to develop medical apps

By Jonah Comstock
11:03 am

Google DeepMind, a UK-based artificial intelligence subsidiary of Google, has entered the healthcare space with a new partnership with the UK's National Health Service. Google acquired the UK-based DeepMind in January 2014. While DeepMind is known for AI, the partnership so far is built around two apps that don't use AI at all.

"[A]rtificial intelligence is not part of the early-stage pilots we’re announcing today," the company wrote in a FAQ. "It’s too early to determine where AI could be applied here, but it’s certainly something we are excited about for the future."

Instead, Google DeepMind is working with the NHS to pilot two health apps, Streams and Hark. Streams has been developed in collaboration with kidney experts at the Royal Free Hospital London. The app is designed to help doctors get information about their acute kidney failure patients, including blood tests, faster, which will enable faster diagnostics in situations where time is of the essence.

The Guardian reports that kidney failure is just the beginning: the same app could be adapted to give alerts for other time-sensitive conditions like sepsis and blood poisoning.

The other app announced by DeepMind is called Hark, and its function is to help doctors and nurses organize information that is currently managed with hand-written notes, fax machines, and pagers. Hark was actually developed by Professor Ara Darzi and Dr Dominic King of Imperial College London, but Deep Mind will be stepping in to accelerate and scale the app and eventually integrate it into Streams. 

"In successful early pilots at St Mary’s Hospital in London, [researchers] found that clinicians responded 37 percent faster with Hark than with pagers," DeepMind writes on its website. "Research published by the Imperial team in the journal Surgery found that effective care is delayed in up to 50 percent of patients at risk of significant deterioration, primarily because of poor communication."

These initial partnerships get DeepMind's foot in the door in the healthcare space, but the company plans to develop more tools based on the needs of doctors and nurses, which will possibly include tapping into their AI expertise. If they do, it would invite comparisons to IBM, which has introduced enterprise hospital apps through its collaboration with Apple and is also putting its own AI engine, Watson, to various healthcare tasks. 

DeepMind Health will also have an independent review board which includes Mike Bracken, chief digital officer of The Co-operative Group and ex-CDO UK-Gov; Martin Bromiley, chair of the Clinical Human Factors Group and patient safety advocate advocate; Elisabeth Buggins, chair of the Birmingham Women’s NHS Foundation Trust; Eileen Burbidge, chair of Tech City UK and a partner at Passion Capital; Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet; Julian Huppert, ex-MP and Cambridge CCG Audit Chair; Professor Donal O’Donaghue, former National Clinical Director of Kidney Care; Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Arts; and Sir John Tooke, Professor of Medicine at University College London.

Despite both falling under the wider Alphabet umbrella, there doesn't appear to be any connection or collaboration at this juncture between Google DeepMind and Verily, Alphabet's life sciences subsidiary in the United States.

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