Business > Efficiency

Taunton and Somerset NHS trust partners with Google's DeepMind

Neil Merrett Published 22 June 2017

New agreement will focus on streamlining clinical engagement; ICO vows to offer legal advice on partnership as it continues investigation into previous testing of the technology


Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust will be the first UK healthcare organisation outside of London to partner with Google-owned AI group DeepMind to make use of its Streams clinical app to try and improve the effectiveness of its diagnosis and alerts.

Amidst an ongoing investigation into the use of patient data for initial testing of the Streams technology, which is now live in some London hospitals, the UK’s data regulator is expected to provide advice on the law to the Taunton and Somerset trust.

The Streams app was initially developed to try and improve acute kidney injury (AKI) detection by immediately reviewing blood test results for signs of deterioration and delivering results and alerts to relevant clinicians via a mobile device.

It will now be rolled out at Musgrove Park Hospital, where Streams will be used to provide alerts to doctors and nurses where patients may require immediate attention, as well as helping to determine other conditions like AKI.  

Stakeholders have noted that no data has yet been transferred under the partnership agreement.

As part of the implementation, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said it intends to speak with the Taunton and Somerset trust to offer legal advice as the regulator continues to investigate DeepMind’s use of patient data for the testing phase of Streams' development at the Royal Free London hospital.

The data regulator last year asked National Data Guardian Dame Fiona Caldicott to consider the legal basis for sharing information on 1.6 million patients to support testing of the technology.  The investigation continues to focus on data use in developing Steams before the technology went live at the Royal Free to support direct care.

In the specific case of the app’s testing phase, the data guardian concluded that development of the Streams technology could not be counted as ‘direct care’ that would have allowed for patient data to be shared with the company to develop the app.

It is understood that the ICO is still set to decide on the overall legality of how information was used to test the technology at the Royal Free London hospital.

“The ICO continues to investigate the sharing of 1.6 million patient details by the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust with Google DeepMind in support of the testing and development of an alert, diagnosis and detection system for acute kidney injury,” said a spokesperson for the ICO. “We hope to conclude that work shortly.”

According to Taunton and Somerset trust, its Musgrove Part Hospital was unveiled last year as one of the NHS’ Global Digital Exemplars to help benchmark new means of making use of technology.

The hospital was given £10m in government funding to overhaul digital technology use with a particular focus on digitising information and sharing these details more effectively with clinical staff.

It has also implemented open source technology for electronic patient records in partnership with IMS Maxims.

Tom Edwards, a consultant surgeon working at Musgrove Park Hospital, said the trust’s work with DeepMind would focus on ensuring faster access to information that was crucial for clinical staff to work effectively.

“Safety alerts will be immensely useful, but it is important to remember that – whatever technology we use - it will still be our highly trained and expert staff who are making decisions about diagnosis, treatment and patient care,” he said.

According to the trust, a series of workshops are expected to commence from next month that will involve staff and public engagement to set out how the app will work, its wider implications for care, as well as directions for future development.

“The new Streams app uses tried and tested NHS guidance (algorithms) to process patient information in order to raise safety alerts. It will not use any information that is not already available to hospital staff. Patient data remains at all times under the control of Musgrove Park Hospital,” said the trust in a statement.

DeepMind added that its own staff would work with the trust to talk with patients and answer questions they may have about Streams or the company’s broader work.

“These events will take place before any patient data is processed by DeepMind. All patient data will be stored to world-leading standards of security and encryption in a facility in England, separated at all times from any other systems,” said the group.

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