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NHSX is backing a smartphone app aimed as revolutionising early detection of kidney disease by turning the camera into a clinical-grade tool.
The technology, which was developed by Healthy.io, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse, test and produce results from images taken by the smartphone camera.
The support from NHSX means that 500,000 testing kits will be rolled out to patients over the next three years who are at risk of developing chronic kidney disease, such as those with diabetes and high blood pressure.
Patients will receive a test kit in the post, which includes a standard urine dipstick, a collection pot and a colour board. The smartphone app will then guide the user through the test, including scanning the dipstick on the colour board using the phone’s camera. Using AI and colourmetric analysis, the app reads the dipstick results in the same way a lab would.
The results will then be shared with the patient’s GP, who can follow up if the result is abnormal.
The technology, which is one of 42 projects receiving funding by the AI in Health and Care Award programme, has been trialled at Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust.
During the pilot project, clinicians found that by allowing people with type 1 diabetes to test at home, the testing rate rose from 0% to 79%, and almost one in five were found to have abnormal or highly abnormal results.
The trust’s diabetes consultant, David Lipscomb, said that abnormal test results were seen in 17% of cases with a home testing kit, and that “knowing this allows us to work with the person living with diabetes to identify and prioritise their future care to help them manage their health and wellbeing”.
“Without this new technology, there would have been an increased number of people who remained untested and unaware of potential concerns about chronic kidney disease.,” he said.
“In the latest National Diabetes Audit, 75% of people under our Diabetes Care for You service who are living with type 1 diabetes received all eight annual essential health checks, compared to the national average of just 42%. This shows that this innovative new test makes it easier and more convenient for people to engage with their care had a positive uptake and should lead to improved long-term outcomes.”
The technology will be tested and evaluated over a three-year period to explore the benefits at scale, before potentially rolling it out across the NHS.
NHSX AI director Indra Joshi said that technologies like this app have “great potential to identify serious disease earlier, and can empower people to make the lifestyle changes needed to help better manage their condition”.
“Enabling people to self-test at home using their smartphone’s camera can ease the burden on frontline services while encouraging uptake of an important test that is far easier to conduct at home,” she said.
“Through the AI Award we are testing some of the most promising AI-based innovations to see if the NHS should consider spreading them on a much larger scale to even more patients.”
Read more about NHS and healthcare technology
- NHS is looking for artificial intelligence products to help with triage, screening, imaging and intelligent operational automation.
- Digital Capability for Health framework covers development and IT management services for health and social care organisations.
- We speak to NHS Scotland’s head of digital about the IT to help ease the pressure on the health service, which has intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic.