Artificial intelligence has the potential to save lives, but also brings challenges that must be addressed,” Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has said. AI technology is often represented as a rather scary, sci-fi development but it is already quite widely used within our NHS – we just don’t always realise that this is what it is! AI is the future and, although we will need to tread carefully, always considering the ethical issues raised as we move forward, we need to give credit where it’s due and value the positives that AI is already bringing to patients
This is an edited version of an item first published on the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust website
AI is already being used across the NHS in many ways to improve the early diagnosis of heart disease and lung cancer, to reduce the number of unnecessary operations performed due to false positives, to assist research by better-matching patients to clinical trials and supporting the planning of care for patients with complex needs. One exciting example is that of Moorfields/Deepmind, where one million anonymised eye scans were shared with Deepmind under a research agreement that began in mid-2016. Deepmind’s algorithm is designed to find early signs of age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
Case Study: breakthrough in AI technology to improve care for patients
Two years ago, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and DeepMind Health, came together to announce a five-year partnership to explore whether artificial intelligence (AI) technology could help clinicians improve the care of patients.
Researchers from Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology have had a recent breakthrough in this research, published on Nature Medicine’s website, which describes how machine learning technology has been successfully trained on thousands of historic, de-personalised eye scans to identify signs of eye disease and recommend how patients should be referred for care.
The AI system can recommend the correct referral decision for over 50 eye diseases – with an impressive 94% accuracy – matching world-leading eye experts. It is hoped that the technology could revolutionise the way professionals carry out eye tests, allowing them to spot conditions earlier and prioritise patients with the most serious eye diseases before irreversible damage sets in.
“The number of eye scans we’re performing is growing at a pace much faster than human experts are able to interpret them,” explained Dr Pearse Keane, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital and NIHR clinician scientist at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. “There is a risk that this may cause delays in the diagnosis and treatment of sight-threatening diseases, which can be devastating for patients.
“The AI technology we’re developing is designed to prioritise patients who need to be seen and treated urgently by a doctor or eye care professional. If we can diagnose and treat eye conditions early, it gives us the best chance of saving people’s sight. With further research, it could lead to greater consistency and quality of care for patients with eye problems in the future.”
Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw is director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. He is very positive about the potential this form of AI has to help patients.
“The results of this pioneering research with DeepMind are very exciting, and demonstrate the potential sight-saving impact AI could have for patients,” he said. “I am in no doubt that AI has a vital role to play in the future of healthcare – particularly when it comes to training and helping medical professionals so that patients benefit from vital treatment earlier than might previously have been possible.
“This shows the transformative research than can be carried out in the UK combining world-leading industry and NIHR/NHS hospital/university partnerships.”
This research was supported by funds raised by the world-famous Moorfields Eye Charity.
“Moorfields Eye Charity is proud to have funded equipment which underpins Dr Pearse Keane’s work as part of our programme of philanthropic support in pioneering researchers,”the charity’s chief executive, Robert Dufton, said. “Artificial intelligence is showing the potential to transform the speed at which diseases can be diagnosed and treatments suggested, making the best use of the limited time of clinicians.”
To find out more about Moorfields Eye Charity and the support provided, please visit their website here.
Find out more about this pioneering work here: