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St Mary’s Hospital: Isabel Healthcare & Alexander Fleming

For the last two weeks, the world’s eyes have been on St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington for news on the arrival of the Royal baby. We now know Prince George is a healthy 8lbs 6oz with a decent schlock of hair. Good news all round and the media trucks, crowds and young family themselves have left, almost as quickly as they arrived, but St Mary’s Hospital itself is an interesting place, notwithstanding its history in delivering new members of the  Royal family.

The Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum is one of of London’s most charming examples of hidden history. The small museum with its enthusiastic volunteers houses Flemings original laboratory, restored to its 1928 condition. Fleming discovered the antibiotic penicillin at St Mary’s, a discovery that revolutionised medicine, earned him a Nobel Prize and by some estimates has since saved the lives of 200 million people.I n 1999, the Museum was honoured being declared an International Historic Chemical Landmark by both the American Chemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry, as well as receiving a San Marino Idea Award for penicillin; it’s hard to argue that Fleming gave the world one of the five greatest advances of the 20th century.  If you’re passing through Paddington before lunch some day, give yourself half an hour to spare, and step back in to the history of science and medicine.

Isabel Healthcare grew up at St Mary’s Hospital having being co-founded by Jason and Charlotte Maude in 1999 after their young daughter Isabel was misdiagnosed by her local hospital, very nearly losing her life. Isabel was transferred to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at St Mary’s Hospital, and spent two months there recovering from multiple organ failure and cardiac arrest and eventually having a skin-graft to her stomach. Her local hospital’s misdiagnosis had assumed the three year old’s symptoms were typical of chicken pox, which she was suffering from, but they hadn’t asked themselves ‘what else could this be?’ She was eventually found to be be suffering from a well-described complication of chicken pox: Toxic Shock Syndrome and Necrotising Fasciitis, a potentially fatal soft-tissue infection. Subsequently Dr Joseph Britto, consultant paediatrician at the PICU worked extensively on the production of a digital decision tool aimed at assisting doctors and consultants in their decisions about the clinical management of sick children. Charitable status followed, commitment of £120,000 of funding from the Department of Health and Jason Maude seems to have never taken his foot off the pedal, as there’s now a Diagnosis Checklist Tool for Adult patients as well as the original Paediatric version, used by medical staff the world over as a ‘checker’ or second opinion. There’s now also a ‘consumer’ version, a Symptom Checker that’s available in the Android Play Store or for iOS on the App Store, providing patients with access to symptom checking of around 6,000 illnesses – a very clever tool that could get you talking to your doctor sooner, and in medicine that’s always better.

I’ve written and talked quite a bit recently about telemedicine, I’m hoping to make it to the People’s Stage at the Dublin Web Summit on this very topic. The work of organisations like MedicMobile, the inspirational Jack Andraka,  Dr. Aydogan Ozcan and the Cello Phone Microscope and the potential of initiatives like The Tricorder Prize when combined with our (hopefully leaning to) less collaborative consumption as a digital society, and more collaborative ingenuity could work wonders. I think we’re getting closer as a digital society; closer to relieving pressure on strained health-systems globally by using more self-and community diagnosis tools. By getting the simplest of mobile devices to Africa and developing economies that can diagnose serious illnesses for a few cents. By using mobile phones, simple forms and easily collected data from expectant mothers in disconnected communities patient outcomes can be transformed in a remarkable way.

When you walk around St Mary’s Hospital you can’t help but be struck by the feeling that this is a place of history, a place of innovation. It’s a feeling almost at odds with it’s Royal connection, for this is the sort of place where the very best of revolutions start.

External links & references

  1. Isabel Healthcare – Customer Stories
  2. Alexander Fleming Museum : Imperial College NHS Trust
  3. MedicMobile : Technology at the front-line : RedCert.com
  4. The Tricorder Prize: Healthcare in your hand
  5. A history of St Marys, Wikipedia
  6. Triptease.com : St Mary’s Fleming Museum

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Andy O'Donoghue talks about technology, some say, too much.

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