Tens of thousands of patients are set to receive a diagnosis and treatment for skin cancer faster, with accelerated NHS rollout of ‘teledermatology’ – which involves taking high spec images of spots, moles or lesions on people’s skin.
The simple technology which consists of a small lens the size of a 50p piece that can be attached to a phone camera, also known as a dermatoscope, is enabling specialist dermatologists to double the number of patients they can review in a day.
Currently used in about 15 per cent of trusts offering dermatology services, teledermatology is set to be rolled out to all areas of the country by July this year.
The use of dermatoscopes to take photos is also being expanded across GP practices, which can support people living in more in rural communities to get a faster diagnosis without having to travel for a specialist appointment or avoid the requirement to see a specialist.
More than 600,000 people have been referred for skin cancer checks in the last year – almost one tenth (9 per cent) higher than in the previous year and double the number sent for checks almost a decade ago.
More than 56,000 patients with skin cancer received treatment last year.
As part of plans to reduce waiting times for patients, NHS trusts have been asked to expand the use of teledermatology within community diagnostic centres, meaning people will not need to wait for a face-to-face appointment to have their skin assessed – they can instead be referred directly to a diagnostic hub in their local area.
There are now 108 community diagnostic centres open and offering tests and checks in local areas close to people’s homes.
The NHS is also trialling the use of magnifying lenses that use AI technology to assess a patient’s skin lesions within seconds for the presence of cancer.
The technology, called deep ensemble for the recognition of malignancy, is initially being used alongside clinician assessments.
However, it is hoped it will provide both faster and more accurate skin cancer detection.
This specific technology is currently the only one marked in the UK as an AI medical device.
During an early testing phase, the device was shown to have helped avoid around 10,000 unneeded face-to-face appointments.
Some hospitals are seeing virtually all patient’s diagnosed and treated for skin cancer within two months of an urgent GP referral thanks to the technology.
NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Record numbers of people are being checked and treated for cancer and 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.
“There is no denying that increased demand has placed huge pressure on services, but 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 teldermatology to diagnose skin cancers, and this is proving highly effective in areas that have trialled the technology so far.
“This is just one example of innovation adopted by the NHS to ensure people are diagnosed and treated for cancer as early as possible – we are also investing millions to increase diagnostic and treatment capacity and driving forward early diagnosis initiatives like our community lung trucks –and we will not stop there in our efforts to find cancers earlier and save more lives”.
DERM is a groundbreaking AI tool from Skin Analytics, which uses machine learning and AI image analysis technology to identify cancerous lesions. It operates at 99.7 per cent accuracy.
It is already deployed across seven NHS systems and, collectively, it has assessed more than 38,000 patients, found more than 2,200 cancers and is operating at 99.7 per cent accuracy in predicting the skin lesion is not cancerous.
Neil Daly, Skin Analytics founder and CEO, said: “Our mission is to help more people survive skin cancer and by providing easier access to skin cancer assessments and we are excited to help additional hospitals see more patients faster through the use of our DERM technology.
“The NHS’s decision to roll out DERM to support teledermatology is another positive example of the NHS championing world-leading technologies and the next generation of dermatology pathways.”
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