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AI speeds up diagnosis for NHS patients suffering from heart conditions

20 January 2023

A new tool could be the key to improving cardiovascular care by providing earlier, automated diagnosis and a greater understanding of the heart’s function.

Developed by researchers at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield, “The AI segmentation of cardiac MRI to automate the measurement of cardiac function and volume technology’ tool automatically detects chambers of the heart on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images – performing tasks that would normally involve lengthy manual analysis within seconds. 

Researchers estimate that the AI tool will save doctors and expert imaging specialists up to 30 minutes per scan – freeing up vital NHS resources, whilst also aiding earlier diagnosis.

The tool has been shown to have a high degree of accuracy comparable, if not superior, to manual analysis in a significant proportion of cases.

Around 10 to 20 MRI cardiac scans are usually processed at a workstation by a radiographer a day. This entails a significant amount of work a day, which can result in a real bottleneck in the reporting process, affecting patients awaiting their results to confirm a diagnosis and start or modify their treatment.

The automatic function of the tool helps improve cardiovascular care as the technology replaces a time-consuming and resource-intensive process that requires doctors and cardiac imaging specialists to draw contours on the scanned images of the heart. The immediacy of the results also aids earlier diagnosis.

The technology has been extensively tested on thousands of images, validated in over 5,000 anonymised patient scans at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and further tested on scans from over 30 hospitals in the UK over the past three years, with the team now aiming to make it available to the wider NHS.

Consultant Cardiothoracic Radiologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield, Dr Andrew Swift, said: “Getting answers quickly and accurately will reduce even further the time it takes for patients to begin receiving the right treatment. 

“Obtaining complex measurements showing how well both the left and right side of the heart is pumping is a time-intensive manual task. The AI segmentation of cardiac MRI to automate the measurement of cardiac function and volume technology overcomes this problem. 

“It has the potential to free up hospital staff to deal with more patients rather than spend time on image analysis. This is an excellent example of innovation from within the NHS and a proud legacy of the clinical and technical expertise we have here in Sheffield.”

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