How AI is being used to spot early warning signs to keep Somerset patients out of hospital

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The NHS is introducing artificial intelligence into doctors' practices across the West Country in a bid to spot early warning signs of patients most at risk.

The use of the technology has been trialled in care homes in Somerset with the number of visits to hospital emergency departments reduced by as much as 60 per cent.

Information already held on 400,000 people across the county has been analysed by the 'Brave AI' system, which helps staff identify vulnerable patients who may otherwise go undetected.

Now, 30 areas from Gloucestershire to Cornwall will receive the AI software over the next few months.

91-year-old Joan Whiddett, who lives at The Towans care home in Burnham-on-Sea, was one of those to benefit after receiving support to ease a number of chest infections. By making simple changes to the way she sat and slept, care workers were able to prevent potential future problems which could have required a hospital visit.

GPs are now using the AI data to better pinpoint patients in need Credit: ITV News

"I feel better now than I have in 10 years," she told ITV News West Country.

"When you're at home, you phone up the doctor and they say it could be three weeks before you're seen. This way, the surgeon can send someone to see me more quickly."

The Somerset pilot also reduced resident falls by 35% and ambulance call-outs by 8.7%.

By using an algorithm to look for patterns in registered patients’ records, the technology assesses an individual’s risk of unplanned hospital admission in the next year.

Integrated neighbourhood teams of nurses, pharmacists, therapists, health coaches, social prescribers and doctors use the information to reach those in need.

The Clinical Lead for Digital & Innovation at NHS Somerset, Dt Matthew Dolman, explained: "We clearly have a finite number of people to do the work and that's where the tool can be really useful because you can understand your ability to see five patients in a day as opposed to being overwhelmed with hundreds of patients. How do you identify those people most at risk out of populations of, say, 10,000 in one community? This tool will allow that."

Care manager Sophie Ferguson says the AI results have made a dramatic difference to residents' care Credit: ITV News

NHS England South West medical director Dr Kheelna Bavalia said: “No one likes going to hospital unexpectedly so it’s much better for everyone if we can make good plans in advance and respond quickly to changes, before emergencies happen."

The Towans' Care Manager, Sophie Ferguson, says she's seen a marked reduction in the number of residents needing emergency care.

"Without this AI system we probably wouldn't have found about a quarter of the medical conditions people had. Being able to see the pharmacists, the GPs and physios has made a huge difference to the residents' whole wellbeing rather than one single part of their medical health."