UK’s NHS recommended to use AI in radiotherapy planning

Artificial intelligence could soon be used for the first time in the UK’s hospitals after clinical experts concluded that it could save time and money.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved the use of nine artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in planning the treatment of patients undergoing external beam radiotherapy for lung, prostate, or colorectal cancers.

In draft guidelines to the National Health Service (NHS), the recommending body said that AI could be used to mark up, or contour, images of CT and MRI scans for healthy organs at risk of radiation, something that radiographers currently do by hand.

This could save radiographers anywhere between three to 80 minutes per each treatment plan, according to clinical evidence provided to NICE, which they could spend on patients or use to concentrate on more complex cases.

While AI-produced contours are of similar quality to those carried out manually, they will still need to be reviewed by trained healthcare professionals, NICE said, even though evidence showed only minor edits might be required.

This could relieve “severe pressure” on radiotherapy departments, according to Sarah Byron, program director for health technologies at NICE.

“The role imaging plays in radiotherapy treatment planning is quite pivotal, so recommending the use of AI technologies to help support treatment planning alongside clinical oversight by a trained healthcare professional could save both time and money,” Byron said.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay described the announcement as “hugely encouraging” and said “the NHS must embrace innovation to keep for the future.”

He added: “These tools have the potential to improve efficiency and save clinicians thousands of hours of time that can be spent on patient care.”

The NHS data shows that there were 134,419 radiotherapy episodes in England alone between April 2021 and March 2022, with a significant portion of those requiring complex treatment planning.

Technology costs ranged from £4 to £50 ($5 to $63) per plan, which included software, healthcare professional training, and other associated costs.

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