Artificial intelligence could be used to carry out breast screenings in the north-east, a leading doctor has revealed.
During breast cancer awareness month, which runs for the duration of October, NHS Grampian is canvassing patients for their views on the introduction of pioneering technology.
Specialists believe it could reduce the need for a mammogram – an X-ray image of the breast – to be examined by up to three consultants.
They say that could, in turn, lead to the process speeding up, with faster screenings and test results.
Dr Gerald Lip, clinical director of north-east breast screening at NHS Grampian, said: “In the future, an artificial intelligence computer programme could examine a person’s mammogram – an X-ray image of the breast.
“We want to see how our clients would like to see this technology used and are asking for their opinions on several scenarios as part of our survey.
“At the moment two specialists examine the images and another senior specialist can then take a look at the image as well if they disagree with each other.”
The breast screening unit at ARI already has experience of innovation, and last year unveiled the first X-ray integrated biopsy machine to be used in Scotland.
Dr Lip said: “One of the benefits of involving AI initially is it could replace one or both of the specialists at that first screening image examination stage.
“This would, in turn, free-up specialists which would allow us to increase capacity – for both patient appointments clinics and across the system, which would ultimately benefit all patients, speed up the whole process and cut waiting times.”
Dr Lip said there were a few ways AI could operate within the department in future.
He added: “It could replace one of the specialists at that initial stage. If the specialist and AI flags the image is not quite right or identifies it as abnormal, the patient would be invited back to an appointment with a specialist. If the specialist and AI disagreed with each other, a second specialist would examine the image.
“Another scenario we are asking about is that the AI replaces both the specialists at the initial image examination and if it flags up an abnormality the patient is invited to an appointment.
“In either of these situations, AI would ultimately lead to faster screening and results for our clients.”
The survey on the potential introduction of AI has been opened to patients on the NHS breast screening programme, and depending on the response could be opened online in the future.
It will examine respondents’ knowledge of AI to understand how opinions vary in the screening population.