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IBM's Watson aims to make hospital stays suck a whole lot less

The supercomputer will work on improving the experience for young patients at a major children's hospital in the UK.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

IBM's Watson apparently likes a challenge.

Ben Hider / Getty Images

It's not the same as a visit from a clown or a star athlete, but the work of a supercomputer could help make kids' stays in the hospital less dreary and frightful.

IBM on Wednesday announced a three-year partnership with Alder Hey Children's Hospital in the UK that will see its Watson supercomputer harnessed to analyze and improve every aspect of patient care.

Watson became one of the world's most famous artificial intelligence systems after winning the game show "Jeopardy" five year ago and for designing Karolina Kurkova's dress for the Met Gala last week. IBM has been putting Watson's supercomputing powers to task in health care since 2011, when it started assisting doctors in making clinical decisions. Its newest challenge will be to turn Alder Hey into a "cognitive hospital," delivering insights about the patient experience through a new platform.

Using feedback from parents and patients, Watson will help the hospital identify anxieties and provide on-demand reassurance and a more-personalized service to young patients, as well as reminding parents about follow-up appointments and aftercare. IBM envisions a variety of other potential applications including matching patients to clinical studies, monitoring admission patterns to help with bed planning and helping manage chronic illnesses through educational applications.

An initial version of the platform will be ready for testing in the hospital at year's end.

Alder Hey is also developing an app that will let patients access pre-admission services before they arrive in hospital.

"Helping our patients and their families prepare properly for coming into [the] hospital will really reduce their anxiety and could mean we can get them better and home faster," Iain Hennessey, a pediatric surgeon and director of innovation at Alder Hey, said in a statement.

Patient feedback is critical to helping Watson fully understand and analyze what's going in on the hospital. For the next few months, Alder Hey will be asking patients a range of questions on topics such as what they think of the parking, what they would like to eat, what their favorite games and films are, and what they want their bedroom to look like. They will also be asked what questions they have about clinical procedures, general anesthetic and surgery.

Watson will be fed these answers so that it can learn to anticipate and respond to patient and family questions, even before they arrive at the hospital.