NHS-funded AI diagnosis tool benefits stroke patients

A Brainomix stroke diagnosis tool that received funding from the first round of the government’s AI in Health and Care Award, in 2020, has shown it can reduce the time between patients presenting with a stroke and receiving treatment by more than 60 minutes.

The then secretary of state for health and social care, Matt Hancock, announced the £140m competition for AI healthcare technology providers in January 2020. The award formed part of a £250m NHS AI Lab announced by then prime minister Boris Johnson, in 2019.

Current health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said of the Brainomix project: “AI has the potential to transform our NHS – delivering faster, more accurate diagnoses and making sure patients can get the treatment they need, when they need it.

“Brainomix is an incredible example of how this can be achieved, using the power of AI to shave life-saving minutes off one of the most time-sensitive diagnoses in medicine, meaning patients get the treatment they need faster.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has credited the technology with a tripling in the number of stroke patients recovering with no or only slight disability, from 16% to 48%.

As it now stands, the AI in Health and Care Award is backed by £123m and run by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the Accelerated Access Collaboration at NHS England and the NHS AI Lab. It is said to support speeding up the testing and evaluation of technologies which have the potential for greatest patient and clinician benefit.

This funding, it is said, has enabled more than 111,000 suspected stroke patients to benefit across five stroke networks in England.

The department said the Brainomix e-Stroke system uses AI algorithms to support doctors by providing real-time decision support in the interpretation of brain scans which help inform decisions for stroke patients.

The technology allows stroke specialists to access scans and images remotely, so they can support other hospitals to deliver stroke care. This supports clinicians working across integrated stroke delivery networks (ISDNs).

The technology has been deployed at sites spanning 11 stroke networks across the country, of which five have been funded through the AI in Health and Care Award. This funding has supported the detection of more than 4,500 large vessel occlusions (LVOs) in stroke patients. LVOs are reputed to be one of the most time-sensitive diagnoses in medicine, with early diagnosis leading to better patient outcomes.

NHS England director of transformation Timothy Ferris said: “Every minute saved during the initial hospital assessment of people with stroke-like symptoms can dramatically improve a patient’s chance of leaving hospital in good health.

“The NHS is harnessing the potential that AI has to support expert staff in delivering life-changing care for patients with a range of needs, and through the AI in Health and Care Award we are testing, evaluating and supporting the most promising technologies which could transform the way we deliver care.”

Strokes affect 85,000 people in England every year, for whom getting into hospital and starting the right treatment quickly is key to making a good recovery.

The department cited a teaching assistant and grandmother Carol Wilson who suffered from intense cramp and rapidly lost sight and use of her limbs in June 2021. She was transferred to hospital where, with the help of the Brainomix e-Stroke tool, her consultant was able to rapidly diagnose a blood clot on her brain and recommend a thrombectomy. Thanks to the quick diagnosis and access to treatment, Carol has now recovered and is back at work and able to live her life as she was before the stroke.

She said: “This technology is just amazing. I was able to sit up and text my family later that day, and was back at home and able to walk around two days after having a stroke.

“I often think about how lucky I am to have made the recovery I have – to be able to go back to work and spend time with my grandchildren – especially when you consider not everyone who has a stroke has such a good outcome.”

For the supplier, Riaz Rahman, vice-president healthcare global at Brainomix, said: “The Brainomix e-Stroke platform has fast become a cornerstone of integrated stroke delivery networks’ ability to deliver best-in-class stroke care. We have collated multiple examples of hard evidence, spanning several networks, confirming the use of e-Stroke helps deliver more consistent treatment decisions and faster patient transfers. This is vitally important in a highly time-sensitive pathway.

“Having successfully deployed the system at pace and scale across the NHS, we have seen in some regions the tripling of post-operative patient functional scores and more than double the access to life-saving mechanical thrombectomy treatment.”

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