September, 2021

AI technology at Barts Life Sciences spares at-risk diabetic patients from limb amputation

Thousands of diabetes patients could be spared a limb amputation thanks to ground-breaking AI technology that has helped Barts Life Sciences identify people at risk from complications.

Clinicians at Barts Health NHS Trust, one of the largest trusts in the UK, say it would have taken a clinician over 100 years to review the volume of data analysed in a project which, thanks to AI technology, took just weeks to complete from start to finish.

This is one of the projects being carried out at Barts Life Sciences as part of CAP-AI, a pioneering research programme in AI, placing healthcare in east London at the forefront of the AI and technology revolution.

CAP-AI, London’s first AI-enabling programme, focuses on stimulating growth in the capital’s  AI cluster using machine learning to deliver innovative healthcare and services to improve outcomes for patients.

Barts Health NHS Trust and Queen Mary University of London, supported by Barts Charity, have come together to help accelerate the latest healthcare innovations from bench to bedside in a powerful partnership called Barts Life Sciences.

The trust deployed new AI technology, supplied by Clinithink, to scan 14.2 million documents to find patients with diabetic foot disease, a potentially serious complication of diabetes.

The software trawled through medical records and notes to find 30% more patients with diabetes and 375% more patients with diabetic foot problems, making it easier for clinicians to schedule earlier treatments to save feet and limbs from amputation.

“Attempting this scale of analysis manually would have been frankly impossible,” said Dr Charles Gutteridge, chief clinical information officer at Barts Health.

“Theoretically it would have taken one clinician over a hundred years to review that volume of documents. So not only does AI technology help us find patients who we couldn’t otherwise find, it also saves precious clinical time.

“This is a first and most important step in being able to treat many patients earlier than would have been possible using a manual process to find them and preventing the serious complications that may result in amputation.”

In the next phase of work planned by Dr Sophie Williams, the lead research data scientist for the Barts Health team, the characteristics extracted by the software in the cohort it identified, along with input from other sources, will be used to determine whether this approach can predict which patients are most likely to develop the severe complications associated with diabetic foot disease (DFD).

Mr Sandip Sarkar, consultant vascular surgeon at Barts Health and co-investigator for the project, added: “Using this advanced AI technology, we are very excited about the possibility of being able to predict which patients are most likely to experience the worst consequences of DFD.

“This will enable us to focus our precious clinical resource on those patients likely to benefit most from early intervention, which will also reduce the burden on hard-pressed acute services. This is how we need to manage chronic disease in the post-Covid era.”

Diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic limb amputation in the UK with analysis by the charity Diabetes reporting more than 176 leg, toe or foot amputations every week in England.

Patients with diabetes are also at increased risk of death and that risk increases with the severity of foot ulceration. The estimated cost to the NHS of caring for patients with DFD was £1 billion in 2014/15.

Barts Health, which delivers healthcare to a diverse population of 2.5 million people in east London, was able to use this technology – which harnesses natural language processing – to analyse 14.2 million documents, related to 775,217 patients written between 2018 and 2020. This identified 61,756 patients with diabetes and, of these, 3,119 patients with DFD.

Life sciences combines research, innovation and technologies to transform health and care services and brings together research, health and industry to spark new ideas and innovations in a powerful creative cycle.

This technology and how it’s benefitting patients and clinicians at Barts Health was also featured on inews.