AI stethoscope rolled out to GP clinics in north west London to help diagnose heart failure

A national trial will determine if providing GPs with AI-enabled stethoscopes increases early diagnosis of heart failure.

An artificial intelligence (AI) tool previously trialled at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust is being deployed to 100 primary care practices to assist clinicians in their evaluation of heart failure.

The TRICORDER programme is a collaboration between Imperial College London, The NHS North West London Integrated Care System and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and will evaluate if providing GPs with AI-enabled smart stethoscopes can improve diagnoses for heart failure and reduce costs for the NHS. The trial is funded by a £1.2 million award from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

The project is believed to be the first sector-wide use of an AI tool in primary care and will assess if the Eko DUO device can improve diagnoses for heart failure.

The device, which can quickly show whether the pumping action of their heart is weakened, was trialled in patients at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and analysis showed it could test for heart failure with high levels of sensitivity and specificity (91 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively) compared to routine diagnostic tests that are invasive and expensive.

This work was supported by funding from the NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), a translational research partnership between Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London to continue developing new experimental treatments and diagnostics for patients. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart cannot pump blood effectively. It carries a higher risk of death than most cancers and is increasingly common, affecting 2 per cent of the UK population and consuming 4 per cent of the NHS budget.

Led by researchers at Imperial College London, the new trial involves 100 GP practices across north west London and North Wales and will recruit more than 3 million patients who will be randomly allocated to receive the AI-stethoscope or continue with current care. Professor Nicholas Peters, consultant cardiologist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Heart failure admission alone costs the UK over £2 billion annually, and an unacceptable 80 per cent of these diagnoses are made during emergency admissions.” Early diagnosis maximises the benefits of treatments, improving symptoms, quality of life and survival. 80 per cent of patients are diagnosed with heart failure late after a series of tests in hospital, highlighting the need for a primary care screening tool.

Co-investigators Dr Patrik Bächtiger and Dr Mihir Kelshiker, from Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “TRICORDER is a system-wide implementation of Eko’s clinically effective AI technology. Implementing this tool in primary care could save the health payer system £2,400 per patient, eliminating the potential need for an emergency room visit."

Dr Bob Klaber, director of research, strategy and innovation at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “This programme is an example of the role of the Trust working as an anchor institution where collaborative partnerships with communities, patients, other NHS teams and academic partners are essential in improving the health and wellbeing of our local populations. North west London has significant disparities in health outcomes across its local area and taking this partnership approach widens the access to the benefits of our research and innovation for local communities.”