A tool which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to detect heart disease in seconds is being used at the Royal Free Hospital.

During an MRI heart scan, the AI tool is deployed to detect evidence of heart disease in a process that takes just 20 seconds. In comparison, it takes around 13 minutes for a doctor to manually assess an MRI.

The technology also detects changes to the heart structure and function, with 40% greater precision and extracts more information than a human can.

The British Heart Foundation funded research into the technology which involved the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, University College London, Barts Heart Centre at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Queen Mary University of London and the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the USA.

Researchers predict that the tool will free-up around 3,000 clinician days every year, helping care to be directed to those waiting for treatment. It will also provide better confidence in analysing MRI results to support clinicians making better, faster decisions around patient care.

The tool has been designed to diagnose a new heart condition when a patient is first assessed for heart disease. It also has the potential to spot heart conditions in patients with a family history of the condition, and helps doctors to monitor how heart care patients are responding to their treatment, allowing necessary adjustments to be made.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This is a huge advance for doctors and patients, which is revolutionising the way we can analyse a person’s heart MRI images to determine if they have heart disease at greater speed.

“The pandemic has resulted in a backlog of hundreds of thousands of people waiting for vital heart scans, treatment and care. Despite the delay in cardiac care, whilst people remain on waiting lists, they risk avoidable disability and death. That’s why it’s heartening to see innovations like this, which together could help fast-track heart diagnoses and ease workload so that in future we can give more NHS heart patients the best possible care much sooner.”

As well as being used by patients at the Royal Free Hospital, the tool is also being used at University College Hospital and St Bartholomew’s Hospital. The team of scientists and cardiologists who developed it l now intend to extend the roll-out of the technology later this year to an additional 40 locations across the UK and globally.

AI technology has also recently been implemented at Leeds Teaching Hospitals to evaluate mammogram quality while Cardiff University has developed and researched an AI tool to detect childhood type 1 diabetes.