Study found the machine analysis had superior precision to three clinicians.

By Tammy Lovell

The NHS has rolled out a new artificial intelligence (AI) tool which can detect heart disease in just 20 seconds while patients are in an MRI scanner. 

A British Heart Foundation (BHF) funded study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance concluded the machine analysis had superior precision to three clinicians. It would usually take a doctor 13 minutes or more to manually analyse images after an MRI scan has been performed. 

The technology is being used on more than 140 patients a week at University College London (UCL) Hospital, Barts Heart Centre at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and Royal Free Hospital. Later this year it will be introduced to a further 40 locations across the UK and globally.


Around 120,000 heart MRI scans are performed annually in the UK. Researchers say the AI will help with the backlog in vital heart care by saving around 3,000 clinician days a year, enabling healthcare professionals to see more waiting list patients. It can also give patients and doctors more confidence in results and assist decision-making about possible treatment and surgeries.


There has been increasing interest in the role of AI to support disease diagnosis. The NHS AI LAB recently announced it has created a blueprint for testing the robustness of AI models, after running a proof-of-concept validation process on five AI models / algorithms using data from the National COVID-19 Chest Imaging Database (NCCID). 


Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, BHF associate medical director, said: “This is a huge advance for doctors and patients, which is revolutionising the way we can analyse a person’s heart MRI images to determine if they have heart disease at greater speed.

“The pandemic has resulted in a backlog of hundreds of thousands of people waiting for vital heart scans, treatment and care. Despite the delay in cardiac care, whilst people remain on waiting lists, they risk avoidable disability and death. That’s why it’s heartening to see innovations like this, which together could help fast-track heart diagnoses and ease workload so that in future we can give more NHS heart patients the best possible care much sooner.”

Dr Rhodri Davies, BHF-funded researcher at UCL and Barts Heart Centre, said: “Our new AI reads complex heart scans in record speed, analysing the structure and function of a patient’s heart with more precision than ever before. The beauty of the technology is that it replaces the need for a doctor to spend countless hours analysing the scans by hand.

“We are continually pushing the technology to ensure it’s the best it can be, so that it can work for any patient with any heart disease. After this initial roll-out on the NHS, we’ll collect the data, and further train and refine the AI so it can be accessible to more heart patients in the UK and across the world.”