Clinicians are using an app to speed up detection of a 'silent killer'

Key Points
  • Doctors and nurses get immediate notifications on their phones when test results show a patient is in danger of becoming seriously unwell. 
  • The app has been developed by Alphabet's DeepMind Health together with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.
The Royal Free Hospital

Healthcare professionals can now detect one of the National Health Service's (NHS) "biggest killers" in minutes rather than hours due to the use of a new app.

The app, which has been developed by Alphabet's DeepMind Health together with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust (RFL), is used to help identify patients who are at risk of something called "acute kidney injury", or AKI.

The RFL described acute kidney injury as a "silent killer" because it could "often be diagnosed late" and was hard to predict.

In an announcement Wednesday the RFL said the goal of the app, which is called Streams, was to provide "the right data to the right clinician at the right time."

When test results indicate that a patient is in danger of becoming very ill with AKI, doctors and nurses get immediate notifications on their phones.

The RFL said that an evaluation of the Streams app, conducted by University College London, found that clinicians using it could "respond to urgent AKI cases in 14 minutes or less". With existing systems, this could take "many hours."

This is important, because speed is crucial when diagnosing conditions such as AKI, which accounts for 100,000 deaths per year in the U.K. and costs the NHS £1.2 billion ($1.45 billion).

In a statement Wednesday Chris Laing, a consultant nephrologist involved in the project and its evaluation, said the app enabled the monitoring of patients' kidney function "through real time analysis of blood tests 24/7."

"If a potential change in kidney function in a patient is detected, at any time or anywhere at the Royal Free Hospital, a specialist will be notified and the case will be reviewed, in-application, in a matter of minutes, with follow-up bedside assessment as required," Laing added.

The NHS has been running since 1948. It's guided by principles that also underpinned its launch — that it should meet the needs of all, be free at the point of delivery, and based on clinical need rather than a person's ability to pay.