An NHS health board in Scotland is exploring how AI can be used to improve treatments for a lung disease as part of a “world first” trial.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is investigating how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to support clinicians who provide care to patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and help to prevent emergency hospital admissions.

COPD is a progressive and preventable disease that affects around 1.2 million people in the UK and is the second most common cause of emergency hospital admissions.

The annual economic burden of COPD on the NHS is estimated as £1.9 billion, with treatment following exacerbations of symptoms accounting for 70 per cent of these costs.

The year-long trial, which launched on Monday, in partnership with Lenus Health and the West of Scotland Innovation Hub, will apply machine learning based models to secure electronic health record data.

This approach identifies patients at highest risk of adverse events for review by clinicians, within the COPD multi-disciplinary team, with the aim of allowing proactive interventions to improve outcomes and reduce emergency care requirements.

Dr Chris Carlin, consultant respiratory physician at NHSGGC and project lead said: “This is an incredibly exciting project.

“It’s the first time we’re bringing together predictive AI insight for COPD into live clinical practice.

“With the ageing population and rising prevalence and complexity of long-term conditions, clinicians are overwhelmed with data that they don’t have the capacity to review.

“We need to deploy assistive technologies to provide us with prioritised insights from patient data.

“These have the potential to give us back time to focus on patient-clinician human interactions, and allow us to optimise preventative management to improve patient outcomes and quality of life rather than continue to firefight with unsustainable reactive unscheduled care.”

The AI study builds on a previous collaboration between Lenus Health, NHSGGC and the West of Scotland Innovation Hub, which uses digital technology to allow COPD to manage their condition and receive support from clinicians from home. 

‘AI trial is culmination of many years’ work’

Patients currently using the digital COPD service at NHSGGC will have the option to consent to take part in the AI study.

The service website has more information about the digital COPD service, how to register as a new patient and content explaining the trial including how AI will be used and evaluated.

Lenus Health chief executive Paul McGinness, said: “This trial is the culmination of many years’ work covering model training, developing the technical infrastructure to automate production of model scores and establishing processes and explainability features with the clinical team to act on the insights provided.

“We are confident that the introduction of clinical decision support based on AI generated insights is the intervention which can truly transform management of chronic conditions like COPD by enabling prioritised care optimisation and enhanced proactive self-management support.

“We anticipate that the approach, methodology and wider learnings from this exemplar study will accelerate the application of AI across additional long-term conditions for a strategic approach to addressing unprecedented acute care demands and expanding economic costs.”