skin lesion cancer smartphone

NHS adopts lens technology for smartphone skin cancer assessments

Image credit: Dreamstime

The NHS has announced plans to roll out a ‘teledermatology’ programme that will see doctors diagnose skin cancer remotely by using a small lens attached to a smartphone camera.

The lens, which is about the size of a 50p piece, is known as a dermatoscope and will enable specialist dermatologists to double the number of patients they can review in a day.

Currently used in about 15 per cent of trusts offering dermatology services, teledermatology is set to be rolled out to all areas of England by July this year.

The use of dermatoscopes to take photos is also being expanded across GP practices, which can support people living in more in rural communities to get a faster diagnosis without having to travel for a specialist appointment.

More than 600,000 people have been referred for skin cancer checks in the last year – almost one tenth (9 per cent) higher than in the previous year and double the number sent for checks almost a decade ago. Over 56,000 patients with skin cancer received treatment last year.

The NHS is also trialling the use of magnifying lenses that use artificial intelligence technology to assess a patient’s skin lesions within seconds for the presence of cancer.

The technology is initially being used alongside clinician assessments, but it is hoped it will provide both faster and more accurate skin cancer detection. During an earlier testing phase, the device was shown to have helped avoid around 10,000 unneeded face-to-face appointments.

Some hospitals are seeing virtually all patients diagnosed and treated for skin cancer within two months of an urgent GP referral thanks to teledermatology, NHS England said.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Record numbers of people are being checked and treated for cancer and thanks to efforts to ensure people come forward with worrying symptoms, we are now diagnosing a higher proportion of cancers at an early stage, increasing people’s chances of beating this cruel disease.

“There is no denying that increased demand has placed huge pressure on services, but championing the use of digital technology and new ways of working is key to reducing waits and is exactly why we are accelerating the use of teledermatology – it is a small piece of kit that has the potential to speed up diagnosis and treatment for tens of thousands with skin cancer.

“We are going a step further even and expanding the use of artificial intelligence lenses in teldermatology to diagnose skin cancers, and this is proving highly effective in areas that have trialled the technology so far.”

Dr Tom While, a GP from Somerset, said: “Being able to get a swift and specialist opinion on a skin lesion or rash, and advice on treatment or local surgical options, often negates the need to refer the patient on to another hospital to see the specialist in person. This not only reduces waiting lists, but strongly benefits my patients who live in rural areas, saving them from long unnecessary journeys.

“If a patient does need to be referred on to a specialist, then the teledermatology service helps to streamline that process, ensuring the patient is seen in the correct clinic at the right time.”

More people than ever before are getting seen for cancer – in year up to March 2023, 424,134 more people were checked for cancer compared with the same period before the pandemic.

A report from February has said that the UK government’s progress towards improving the digital capabilities of the NHS was too slow and often lacked support and funding.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles