MANCHESTER OCTOBER 16 2019 – More than 2,000 NHS patients have had previously undiagnosed spinal fractures detected by an Artificial Intelligence algorithm.
Working with bone health teams in Nottingham, Bradford and Guildford, AI engineers were rapidly able to identify the vertebral fragility fractures (VFFs) and refer patients onward for further investigation and treatment.
Funded by the National Institute for Health Research Invention for Innovation programme, the process has been developed by the University of Manchester and Central Manchester Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, in collaboration with Optasia Medical Ltd with input from the Royal Osteoporosis Society.
The service processes CT scans which are already held by hospitals – patients are not required to have an additional scan. After the algorithm has quickly identified the fractures, the results are verified by a consultant radiologist before being passed back to the hospital.
Announcing the results, Shawn Luetchens, CEO of UK start-up company Optasia Medical, said the development would enable earlier diagnosis of osteoporosis which affects half of all women in their later years.
“This is a big tick in the box for British AI technology and a model of how AI companies can work in partnership with the NHS to deliver better healthcare for patients”, he said.
“The potential health and wellbeing benefits, particularly for women, are significant. Vertebral fractures are the most common osteoporotic fracture and a predictor of future hip fractures – more than 55% of patients with hip fracture have evidence of a prior vertebral fracture.
“Once the algorithm has done the spadework by finding the fractures and flagging them up, the results are verified by a consultant radiologist before being returned to the hospital.
“This is a very efficient use of a consultant radiologist’s expertise at a time when the UK has a shortage of them1”.
Fractures due to osteoporosis affect half of all women and 1 in 5 men aged over 50. The average cost of a hip fracture to an NHS hospital was found in a 2015 study2 to be £16,302 in the first two years. By 2025, treatment of fractures is estimated to cost the UK over £5.5 billion3.
Once at-risk osteoporosis patients have been identified they can be placed on a drug regime to help strengthen bone density and also given lifestyle assistance.
Although the current programme makes use of existing CT scans already held by NHS Trusts, Mr Luetchens said the technology was now available to run a national pre-retirement screening service for older people.
“NHSX is actively looking at screening programmes for high-risk populations and older people certainly fall into that category.
“With pre-retirement screening for osteoporosis, patients would have the opportunity to lead a healthier, more protected and active life. And over the course of a few years, hospitals would start to see a big reduction in the number of elderly patients coming back into hospital with costly hip fractures”.
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1. The Royal College of Radiologists say that the vacancy rate for consultant posts has increased from 9% to 10% in two years.
2. NHS hospital costs after hip fracture were found in a 2015 study by researchers from the University of Oxford and the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in Southampton to be an average of £16, 302 in the first two years following the incident.
3. Osteoporosis in the European Union: a compendium of country-specific reports. Arch Osteoporos. 2013; 8(1-2): 137 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3880492/)
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Optasia Medical carried out three successful pilots in partnership with Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust referring a total of 2,019 previously undiagnosed patients for further assessment and treatment.
Artificial Intelligence applications for radiology and other healthcare technologies are being developed at pace around the world.
The project in Manchester is one of the first in the UK to deliver an application with real-world benefits that can be accessed by hospitals to provide more effective care for patients and reduce costs.