A magnifying lens that uses artificial intelligence can detect skin cancer in NHS patients within seconds, leading to faster diagnosis of the disease.
A trial of the technology, the only certified AI medical device in the UK, is part of an accelerated NHS rollout of high-res imaging used to diagnose skin cancer.
The magnifying lens assesses a patient’s skin lesions for the presence of cancer in seconds, using Deep Ensemble for the Recognition of Malignancy (DERM).
It is hoped the AI will be able to detect skin cancer without the patient needing a face-to-face appointment with a clinician, reducing wait times for assessments.
DERM has already been used successfully in eight healthcare settings across the country, and there are plans to extend the pilot sites by a further 10 before winter.
After a patient is sent for an urgent referral by a GP they will attend an imaging clinic where dermoscopic images are captured.
These images are then assessed by the AI in the magnifying lens, which has been trained to recognise the 11 most common lesions.
Patients found to have low-risk legions 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 is initially being used alongside clinician assessments, was shown 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 rollout of “teledermatology”, which involves taking high-resolution images of spots, moles or lesions on the skin.
Teledermatology is used in about 15 per cent of NHS trusts offering dermatology services, and is set to be rolled out to all areas of the country by July 2023. It is also being expanded across GP practices.
Trusts have been asked to expand the use of teledermatology within community diagnostic centres (CDCs), meaning patients will not need to wait for a specialist appointment but be referred directly to a diagnostic hub in their local area.
There are now 108 CDCs open and offering tests and checks in local areas.
The technology consists of a small lens the size of a 50p coin that can be attached to a phone camera, also called a dermatoscope. It enables specialist dermatologists to double the number of patients they can review in a day.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS, said: “Record numbers of people are being checked and treated for cancer. Thanks to efforts to ensure people come forward with worrying symptoms, we are now diagnosing a higher proportion of cancers at an early stage, increasing people’s chances of beating this cruel disease.”
She added: “Championing the use of digital technology and new ways of working is key to reducing waits and is exactly why we are accelerating the use of teledermatology. It is a small piece of kit that has the potential to speed up diagnosis and treatment for tens of thousands with skin cancer.
“We are going a step further even and expanding the use of artificial intelligence lenses in teledermatology to diagnose skin cancers, and this is proving highly effective in areas that have trialled the technology so far.”
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.