Hundreds of thousands of people have missed vital ultrasound scans for heart disease, cancer, and other serious health conditions because of concerns about catching COVID-19. With huge patient backlogs in medical imaging and no immediate end in sight to the current threat, there is urgent need for action to be taken to avoid a future healthcare crisis of undiagnosed medical conditions.
Now, a global leading cardiac health-tech company, Ultromics, is urging healthcare providers to respond as quickly and in the easiest way possible, by adopting fully automated AI services to analyze and diagnose patients. This will help tackle long waiting lists, while minimising the risk for both patients and clinicians of catching the virus.
Studies show that 90% of imaging centers in the US have recorded a significant drop in patient scans during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the UK, the British Heart Foundation recently reported on 200,000 heart scans missed during lockdown. This can be explained by a pause in cardiology services for all but the most urgent cases, and patients staying away from hospital through fear of contracting the coronavirus.
Dr Ross Upton, co-founder and CEO of Ultromics comments: "COVID-19 has had a paralyzing effect on medical imaging. The risk of COVID complications on the body is well documented and it is vitally important that imaging procedures continue, but essential that they happen in the safest possible way".
"One way to return medical imaging to pre-COVID levels, is to rebuild confidence by helping clinicians significantly reduce the amount of time a patient needs to spend in a clinic or hospital. This in turn will allow for a greater number of patients to be seen and diagnosed."
Both the American Society of Echocardiography and British Society of Echocardiography have released COVID-19 guidelines to encourage clinicians to reduce scan times on ultrasound - the most widely used tool for diagnosing cardiac disease - while reducing time spent handling equipment and limiting exposure of staff who are at increased risk of infection.
Ultromics, has developed EchoGo, an AI service that can be integrated into any existing clinical workflow on a pay-per-scan basis. It fully automates the pathway to diagnosis (traditionally done by taking an ultrasound and manually configuring analysis of the scan with software). EchoGo works using AI-as-a-Service (AIaaS) to automate analysis in the Cloud and, once an ultrasound is performed, deliver a near-instant report, eliminating the need to click software or touch computer equipment.
Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Ultromics, Professor Paul Leeson, adds: "The key is to handle as few pieces of medical kit as possible, and to use fully automated solutions that are interoperable. With EchoGo, the entire diagnosis pathway is streamlined and can be completed within minutes, allowing clinicians to treat more patients. The additional benefits of standardization and reduced variability in measurements across vendors limits the expense and risk involved in reimaging or further testing."
Dr Upton concludes: "In the area of ultrasound, with the need to make medical imaging as safe as possible, every second counts (quite literally) and full AI automation is arguably the best way to achieve this. It will help build patient (and clinician) confidence that time spent in hospital appointments, at possible risk of exposure to the virus, will be significantly reduced, and contact with equipment that could be open to cross-infection, kept to a minimum.
"What is needed now is a willingness to embrace the enforced acceleration by COVID-19 of new ways of working. The opportunity now is to embrace the potential offered by AI to not only ease the current difficulties in the planning of healthcare delivery, but to also significantly improve patient outcomes."
Ultromics and EchoGo
Ultromics is a global health technology firm which provides autonomous echocardiography analysis through innovative AI solutions - empowering physicians to make fast, accurate decisions when diagnosing cardiovascular disease. We have developed the first fully automated solution for echocardiography and strain analysis. The revolutionary platform, EchoGo, is a cloud-based AI service which delivers analysis to any vendor within minutes and with zero variability through its zero-click, full automation workflow.
Our technology was born at the University of Oxford and built in partnership with the NHS and has since raised over £20 million to help bring diagnostic quality to hospitals, improve patient care, and help make valuable resource and cost savings. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality, with an estimated 17 million deaths each year.