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AI kettles and fridges reduce hospital readmissions in NHS pilot

An initiative employing artificial intelligence in household appliances such as kettles and fridges to monitor recently discharged hospital patients in England has demonstrated a remarkable 77% reduction in unplanned readmissions, according to its developers.

Known as the Onward Care program, this pioneering scheme, developed in collaboration with Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust in the southeast of England, marks a significant milestone in the integration of AI within the healthcare sector.

Jenny Ricketts, deputy chief operating officer for Buckinghamshire trust, emphasised that AI is designed to collaborate with healthcare professionals rather than replace them. She highlighted its role in facilitating human contact, especially crucial for the elderly population, while streamlining the process.

The system’s functionality relies on AI-enabled electronic sensors attached to kettles and fridges, which can detect alterations in eating and drinking patterns. Any significant variances trigger alerts to the Onward Care team, enabling them to arrange appropriate clinical assistance.

With the growing demand for healthcare services due to the aging UK population, health leaders are increasingly exploring AI applications to alleviate pressure on the healthcare system.

The pilot program, co-led by Sodexo, a facilities management and food services company, has been operational in Buckinghamshire for a year. Sodexo is currently in discussions to expand the initiative to other healthcare trusts nationwide.

Adrian McCourt, managing director of the Onward Care service, reported that the pilot has supported around 140 individuals at home for a 12-week period following their hospital discharge. He estimated that, on average, 40% of “frail” patients face readmission within six months, but under the pilot, this figure has seen a substantial 77% reduction.

Several hospitals are already leveraging AI tools for tasks such as X-ray analysis, expediting bookings and referrals, and utilising speech-recognition technology for clinical notes. The Onward Care system incorporates a device named Monica, akin to Amazon’s Alexa, providing prompts to encourage movement if activity levels deviate from the norm.

Data on daily activities, including step count and time spent in specific rooms, is aggregated into a central dashboard. Notifications are triggered if a patient’s behavior undergoes significant changes, prompting further investigation. Additionally, sensors on fridges and kettles serve as proxies to monitor alterations in hydration and nutrition over time.

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