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Lifesaving App Can Detect Acute Kidney Injury in Minutes

Dominique Adams



Described as a “potential lifesaver” by hospital staff, the app can provide diagnoses in minutes rather than hours. 

A new mobile phone app called Streams has helped speed up the detection of a potentially fatal kidney condition known as acute kidney injury (AKI).

More common in elderly patients, AKI is when a person’s kidneys suddenly cease to function at full capacity or fail altogether.

AKI is usually the result of complications related to another existing illness, such as sepsis. A potentially fatal condition, early detection and treatment is crucial as AKI can damage and even shutdown other organs. It affects one in five people admitted to hospital and accounts for roughly 100,000 deaths per year.

When trialled at London’s Royal Free Hospital, doctors and nurses received alerts via the app in an average of 14 minutes, when patients’ blood tests tested positive for the condition – typically this process would take several hours.

The app is able to alert specialists to potential changes in hospitalised patients’ kidney function in real time, and enable them to rapidly review a curated set of relevant clinical data, intervene proactively and remotely monitor and follow-up cases.

Developed by London’s Royal Free Hospital using DeepMind technology, the app sends results directly to clinicians in the form of easy-to-read results and graphs. According to hospital manager, the app has helped cut down the cost of treatment.


Lead nurse specialist at the Royal Free, Mary Emerson, told the BBC that Streams had made a big difference to her job. “It’s a huge change to be able to receive alerts about patients anywhere in the hospital,” she said.

“Healthcare is mobile and real time, and this is the first device that has enabled me to see results in a mobile real-time way.” She said it was the first system that “fits with the way we work”.

Comprised of around 12,000 alerts on AKI, the data from the trial was evaluated by the University College London, which found there had been “significant improvement” in rapid AKI detection. However, analysis of the results  indicated there had been “no step change” in patient recovery rates.

The findings, which were published in the Journal of Nature Digital Medicine, also noted that old technology was commonly used to share this type of important data. The report authors are now calling for further testing of the system across a range of hospitals.

Consultant Dr Sally Hamour, a kidney specialist at the Royal Free, said the project was potentially lifesaving, adding: “We need to gather a lot more information about this technology and we need to look at it over a longer time frame.

“But it is certainly the case that some patients are very unwell, information comes to the correct team very quickly, and then we can put measures in place to try to make that patient safe and reverse the impact on their kidney function.”

Previously, the hospital has been chastised over its dealings with DeepMind by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in 2017, saying it had not adequately protected patient data.

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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