A new artificial intelligence (AI) tool being used in the NHS can detect heart disease at record speed, experts say.
The computer tool, which mimics human ability but with greater precision and at a faster speed, can analyse heart MRI scans in just 20 seconds while the patient is in the scanner.
This is much quicker than the 13 minutes or more it would take for a doctor to manually examine the images after an MRI scan, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which has funded research into the tool.
The technique also detects changes to the heart structure and function with 40% higher accuracy and extracts more information than a human can, the BHF said.
A new study concluded the technique was more precise at analysing MRIs than the work of three specialist doctors.
Each year in the UK, around 120,000 heart MRI scans are performed and experts believe the new tool will free up medics’ time to see more patients, helping cut the NHS backlog for treatment.
The new AI is being rolled out at University College London Hospital (UCLH), the Barts Heart Centre at Barts Health NHS Trust and Royal Free Hospital, where it is currently being used on more than 140 patients a week.
There are plans to extend this rollout to a further 40 locations in the UK and globally later this year.
Dr Rhodri Davies, who led the work, said: “Our new AI reads complex heart scans in record speed, analysing the structure and function of a patient’s heart with more precision than ever before.
“The beauty of the technology is that it replaces the need for a doctor to spend countless hours analysing the scans by hand.
“We are continually pushing the technology to ensure it’s the best it can be, so that it can work for any patient with any heart disease.
“After this initial rollout on the NHS, we’ll collect the data, and further train and refine the AI so it can be accessible to more heart patients in the UK and across the world.”
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the BHF and consultant cardiologist, said: “This is a huge advance for doctors and patients, which is revolutionising the way we can analyse a person’s heart MRI images to determine if they have heart disease at greater speed.
“The pandemic has resulted in a backlog of hundreds of thousands of people waiting for vital heart scans, treatment and care.
“Despite the delay in cardiac care, whilst people remain on waiting lists, they risk avoidable disability and death.
“That’s why it’s heartening to see innovations like this, which together could help fast-track heart diagnoses and ease workload so that in future we can give more NHS heart patients the best possible care much sooner.”
The BHF said the technology will improve diagnosis and treatment for a multitude of heart conditions.
The team hopes to develop the AI further so that it can quantify heart valve disease and congenital heart defects, which develop in the womb before a baby is born.
The AI was developed using MRI scans from nine different conditions, including heart attack, high blood pressure, aortic stenosis (narrowing of the heart valve), hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (thickening of the left ventricle), dilated cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle), cardiac amyloidosis (deposits of an abnormal protein – amyloid – in the heart tissue), and Fabry disease (a rare inherited fat metabolism disorder that affects the heart).
A study on the technique, published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance, included data from heart MRI scans for 1,923 people.
NHS medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, said: “The NHS is always keen to utilise ground-breaking technology to provide better care for people with heart disease.
“By supporting the most promising new innovations, the health service will continue to evolve, meet the needs of more patients, and encourage more innovators to come forward with ideas that can make a difference and transform people’s lives.”