Scotland’s largest health board introducing sophisticated AI tool which ‘mimics’ pathologists

Scotland’s largest health board is introducing a powerful new artificial intelligence tool which can automate the process of detecting and diagnosing disease.

NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde – which serves 1.19million people – is to pioneer the new technology following a development by the multiple partner iCaird project, on behalf of all health boards in Scotland, which can ‘mimic’ the knowledge of pathologists, allowing computers to scan digitally-captured images for anomalies in biopsies and tissue samples. 

The medical development, described as an ‘eHealth revolution’ by the board, will see algorithms ‘trained’ to behave in the same manner as scientists looking through a microscope, albeit on digital scans rather than traditional glass slides.

William Edwards, NHSGGC’s Director of eHealth, said: “What the Board is keen to do is put in place the ability for images to be captured digitally rather than slices being made available on glass slides and looked at under a microscope.  The pathology sample can then be looked at on a computer. 

“This should take us to a situation where clinicians are only being presented with the significant scans and images that need more interpretation, rather than some of the more mundane or routine ones. 

“In order for the computer to come up to speed around that, however, it has to learn how clinicians work. 

“There is a whole exercise underway now with ourselves and other partners to make sure that we can train the algorithms to read these images going forward. 

“In the same way as a pathologist, the algorithm needs to understand when additional information is required or when to zoom into images, and where they might make decision based on the information presented. 

“Overall, the goal is to increase the turnaround times for pathology results so that patients can get faster diagnoses and treatment.” 

This builds on work already taking place as part of the newly developed Attend Anywhere (NHS Near Me) service which offers remote video consultations to pregnant women in Argyll. 

The mums-to-be have consultations with consultant obstetricians from the Royal Alexandra Hospital Maternity unit through video-link.  The women are joined by their local midwife who has already done the routine blood pressure and urine tests and the consultation takes place with any anomalies being flagged up to the obstetrician by the midwife. 

Remote video consultations are also taking place with some patients in Campbeltown Hospital where a remote video-link service is offered for orthopaedic patients to specialist orthopeadic consultants located more than 135 miles away in Glasgow.   

As well as saving time, video consultations are also cutting the number of missed appointments. 

Another eHealth initiative is offering patients suffering chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) a home remote-monitored non-invasive ventilation (NIV) that has already demonstrated benefits including reducing hospital admissions. 

With approximately 129,000 people in Scotland experiencing exacerbations of COPD, it is the second most common cause of emergency hospital admissions, this initiative could reduce the number of COPD admissions which is much better for the patient. 

Dr Chris Carlin, a respiratory consultant at Gartnavel General hospital, treats patients diagnosed with COPD every day and was part of the initial pilot recruiting 42 patients and setting them up with NIV machines and masks at home which were fitted with chip enabling data to be relayed wirelessly to the medics at Gartnavel. 

Dr Carlin said: “We could see the data, see how the patient was getting on, and we could adjust the settings remotely. 

“Results from the pilot showed a significant reduction in both hospital admissions and hospital bed days among the participants.”