A magnifying lens using artificial intelligence can detect skin cancer in NHS patients in seconds, leading to faster diagnosis of the disease.
A trial of the technology, the UK’s only certified medical AI device, is part of an accelerated NHS rollout of high-resolution imaging used to diagnose skin cancer.
The magnifying lens assesses a patient’s skin lesions for the presence of cancer within seconds, using Deep Ensemble for the Recognition of Malignancy (DERM).
It is hoped that the AI can detect skin cancer without the patient needing an in-person appointment with a doctor, reducing wait times for assessments.
DERM has already been successfully deployed in eight healthcare settings across the country and there are plans to expand trial sites by an additional 10 before winter.
Trained to recognize common lesions
After a patient is sent for an urgent referral from a GP, he goes to an imaging clinic where dermoscopic images are taken.
These images are then reviewed by the AI in the magnifying lens, which is trained to recognize the 11 most common lesions.
Patients found to have low-risk lesions are then discharged from the urgent referral pathway, freeing up slots for specialist appointments, while those with high-risk lesions have their case reviewed by a dermatologist who decides on an outcome.
During the earlier testing phase, the device, which will initially be used alongside clinical assessments, was found to have helped avoid around 10,000 unnecessary face-to-face appointments.
The use of the AI technology is part of a wider NHS-accelerated roll-out of “teledermatology”, taking high-resolution images of spots, moles or lesions on the skin.
Teledermatology is used in around 15 per cent of NHS trusts offering dermatology services, and will be rolled out across all parts of the country by July 2023. It is also being extended to GP surgeries.
Trusts have been asked to expand the use of teledermatology within community diagnostic centers (CDCs), meaning that patients do not have to wait for a specialist appointment, but are referred directly to a diagnostic center in their area.
There are now 108 GGDs open offering tests and checkups in local areas.
Double number of patients assessed
The technology consists of a small lens the size of a 50 pence coin that can be attached to a phone camera, known as a dermatoscope. It enables specialist dermatologists to double the number of patients they can assess per day.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS, said: “A record number of people are being checked and treated for cancer. Thanks to efforts to get people with worrisome symptoms to come forward, we are now diagnosing a higher proportion of cancers at an early stage, increasing people’s chances of overcoming this brutal disease.”
She added: “Promoting the use of digital technology and new ways of working is key to reducing waiting times and that is exactly why we are accelerating the use of teledermatology. It’s a small piece of kit that has the potential to accelerate the diagnosis and treatment of tens of thousands with skin cancer.
“We are going one step further and are expanding the use of artificial intelligence lenses in teledermatology to diagnose skin cancer, and this is proving highly effective in areas where the technology has been trialled to date.”
Skin cancer generates the most urgent referrals of any cancer in the UK and referrals are growing by more than 11 per cent year on year.
More than 600,000 people were referred for checks last year – almost a tenth (9 percent) more than in the previous year and double the number sent for checks almost a decade ago.