How the DRIVE unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital is pioneering the use of innovative tech

A new partnership between the children's hospital, UCL and technology vendors is pushing for the application of consumer technology in the hospital


A new unit has been opened at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) following a partnership between the NHS body, University College London (UCL) and technology vendors including Arm, Microsoft, NHS Digital, NTT Data and Samsung, aimed at solving problems at the hospital using emerging technology.

Named DRIVE (Digital, Research, Informatics and Virtual Environments), the team will borrow Facebook's famed ‘move quickly and break things’ approach, fostering an atmosphere of creativity where no idea is off limits.

Image: iStock
Image: iStock

The new group is looking to develop solutions that can be implemented quickly, with any idea that hasn’t come to fruition within eight weeks being ditched. At the children's hospital, most of the initiatives will focus on the ‘softer’ side of care, rather than the medical side.

Why do we need DRIVE?

One technology area in particular that seems to be consuming the group's thoughts is artificial intelligence.

“The state of AI in healthcare is a bit like cavemen with fire, we're burning a piece of meat, and it's not focused," says Dr Shankar Sridharan, clinical director of DRIVE and CCIO at Great Ormond Street. "People are choosing projects randomly based on the tools. But why don't we use DRIVE to focus on AI for healthcare in the UK and the world?”

He says this would mark a divergence from the typical approach to new technologies in the NHS, which would usually involve many different hospitals each funnelling thousands of pounds into disparate projects. He sees DRIVE as an opportunity to unify these efforts.

Another impetus for the project comes from the lack of digital knowledge and expertise across the NHS. The vast majority of the NHS still relies heavily on phone calls and paper documents. “About 70 percent of the population use smartphones, and yet less than five percent of the UK interacts with the NHS digitally - so something's wrong,” says Shanker.

“We're used to evaluating new drugs, for example, or how we do a new surgery," says Professor Neil Sebire, managing director of DRIVE. "How do you do that for new tech things? A surgeon comes and goes, 'I saw this really cool augmented reality app, we should get it,' Well, should we? How do we go about evaluating that?”

Thanks to the input of the initiative’s business partners, an important part of DRIVE will be experimenting with consumer technology and finding applications for it in the hospital. “We realised that we couldn't do it alone, so partnership was the key to bring together really smart people to work quickly," says Shanker. "The NHS, I don't think it has ever been that good at working quickly.”

Kinder care

Above all, the focus of DRIVE is on ‘kinder’ care. Some of the projects currently being worked on include a Minecraft game which allows children to explore a graphical representation of the hospital before coming in for their appointment. This is a product of the partnership with Microsoft, which owns Minecraft, and is designed to make children who may be nervous coming in to the hospital to feel more at ease.

Another project also harnesses video game technology, and is designed to be played by child patients suffering from cystic fibrosis while they undergo chest physiotherapy - a boring and widely disliked procedure for children suffering from the disease.

“The better you get at doing your physiotherapy, the higher the score you get at leader boards and all sorts of things,” says Shanker, pointing out that the technology could have application in creating a distraction during a range of other unpleasant procedures.  

They also have included a ‘fingerprint’ as part of the information they have on every child, which includes information about them such as their favourite colour and football team. This is designed to give doctors more background information on the child, and give them an ice breaker when talking to them.

Operational technology

But not all the initiatives are directly aimed at helping sick children. A partnership with Arm has led to the development of innovative face scanning technology that will remember who has been in the hospital before, allowing them to walk right through without being intercepted for ID, while new faces will trigger a request for identity.

It also means any unauthorised person in the hospital will immediately be registered and an alert to reception will be triggered. The technology also has the wider application of tracing the movements of hospital staff through the facility, meaning that if a staff member is urgently needed, their location will be known.

Finally, through its partnership with UCL Computer Science, the hospital has worked with over 40 students, encouraging them to come up with unorthodox solutions to problems. The best will be developed by DRIVE into full scale initiatives.

Students bring an invaluable element to the unit. “You give them something that you know is impossible, but they don't say, "No, wait, hold on, that's never going to work." They go away and they try to build it," says Shanker. "Occasionally, they will manage. They'll come up with a solution that you think, "Why didn't we think of that?”

The DRIVE space itself is devoted to stimulating out of the box thinking. It’s painted orange - the colour of inspiration, Shanker says - and has been designed by architects that have worked on Google and Playstation offices, giving it the look of a polished tech incubator. It’s certainly a far cry from the standard hospital decor, or drab seminar rooms typical of universities across the country.

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