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Healthcare / Innovation

Chest imaging database and AI tool to help clinicians treat Covid-19 patients

By Andrew Sansom 18 Jan 2021 0

Patients with coronavirus could benefit from faster treatment, improved outcomes and shorter hospital stays thanks to the use of the latest artificial intelligence (AI).

NHSX, a unit tasked with driving the digital transformation of care in the NHS, has compiled more than 40,000 CT scans, MRIs and X-rays from in excess of 10,000 patients across the UK during the course of the pandemic.

Access to this National Covid-19 Chest Imaging Database (NCCID) has now been extended to hospitals and universities across the country who are using the images to track patterns and markers of illness. The database aims to speed up diagnosis of Covid-19, leading to a quick treatment plan and greater understanding of whether the patient may end up in a critical condition.

Clinicians at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge are developing an algorithm based on the NCCID images to help inform a more accurate diagnosis of patients when they present to hospital with potential Covid-19 symptoms and have not yet had a confirmed test. Using visual signatures of the virus, as they appear in chest scans, clinicians will be able to compare the patterns in the patient’s imaging with those seen previously in the NCCID to get a more accurate diagnosis and prognosis.

Understanding the earlier stages of disease means that clinicians are more easily able to implement appropriate, early medical interventions, reducing the potential for later complications. This includes giving patients oxygen and medication before they reach a critical stage, and predicting the need for additional ICU capacity, enabling the management of beds and staff resource in those settings.

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “The use of artificial intelligence is already beginning to transform patient care by making the NHS a more predictive, preventive and personalised health and care service. It’s vital we always search for new ways to improve care, especially as we fight the pandemic with the recovery beyond.”

Carola-Bibiane Schönlieb, Professor of Applied Mathematics and head of the Cambridge Image Analysis group at the University of Cambridge, said: “The ability to access the data for 18 different trusts centrally has increased our efficiency and ensures we can focus most of our time on designing and implementing the algorithms for use in the clinic for the benefit of patients.

“By understanding in the early stages of disease whether a patient is likely to deteriorate, we can intervene earlier to change the course of their disease and, potentially, save lives as a result.”

NHSX was able to quickly establish the project during the spring by working closely with Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust and the British Society of Thoracic Imaging (BSTI) to scale up an existing data collection process. All of the scans in the library are stripped of any identifying patient details by each hospital trust before they’re submitted to the national collection, ensuring researchers are only able to access pseudonymised information.

Further AI applications

The NCCID is also helping researchers from University College London, and academics in Bradford, to develop AI tools that could help doctors improve the treatment for patients with Covid-19.

The database is helping to inform the development of a potential national AI imaging platform where data can be safely collected and shared, developing AI technologies to address a number of other conditions such as heart disease and cancers.

The NCCID is one workstream taken forward by the NHS AI Lab at NHSX. The NHS AI Lab has also set up and launched a £140 million AI award this year in collaboration with the Accelerated Access Collaborative and National Institute for Health Research, which aims to bring the benefits of AI technologies to patients and staff across health and care. Initial bids were awarded to 42 organisations in September last year with a further round of bids closing last month.

Dominic Cushnan, head of AI imaging at NHSX, said: “We’re applying the power of artificial intelligence to quickly detect disease patterns and develop new treatments for patients. There is huge potential for patient care, whether through quicker analysis of chest images or better identification of abnormalities.

“The industrial-scale collaboration of the NHS, research and innovators on this project alone has demonstrated the huge potential and benefits of technology in transforming care.”

Evis Sala, professor of Oncological Imaging at the University of Cambridge, said: “The NCCID team have been extremely knowledgeable, helpful and responsive to our questions throughout the process. This is precisely the initiative we need to ensure we’re better prepared and more responsive for future pandemics.”

Dr Joe Jacob, consultant radiologist and research lead at the BSTI, added: “The NCCID was developed with the support and enthusiasm of chest radiologists and healthcare professionals from around the UK. Their efforts have helped to provide a resource that will help the NHS in the management of the healthcare emergency engendered by Covid-19.”

The NHS AI Lab has also just published ‘A guide to good practice for digital and data-driven health technologies’, setting out what the NHS is looking for when it buys digital and data-driven technology for use in health and care.