AI enables smart phones to test for early kidney disease

Diabetes patients among those to benefit from testing at home scheme

8th February 2021 about a 4 minute read
“The service has enabled us to identify and prioritise follow-up care for people who may have early-stage chronic kidney disease that could have otherwise gone undetected. Dr David Lipscomb, diabetes clinical lead, Sussex Community Foundation NHS Trust

Artificial intelligence which turns a smartphone camera into a clinical-grade tool is being used to detect early kidney disease. 

Patients with diabetes and high blood pressure are among the first to benefit from the pioneering initiative.

NHSX, the digital transformation arm of the NHS, is supporting tech company to offer 500,000 patients technology-supported home-testing kits over the next 3 years. 

More than 3,500 patients have already received their kits.

Fast home testing

Those taking part receive a simple test kit and smartphone app that allows them to test, scan and transmit their results to their GP within minutes, without leaving home.

The technology uses patients’ smartphone cameras to analyse testing images and produce results regardless of lighting conditions, setting or camera type.

With chronic kidney disease affecting around 1 in 10 people in the UK, the new testing and technology is designed to reduce unnecessary trips to the GP and hospital. 

The aim is to encourage more people to seek an early diagnosis, which could save thousands of lives each year.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock commented: “This is another brilliant example of how innovative technologies are transforming healthcare and improving lives.

“Patients are able to receive a diagnosis sooner, saving time for clinicians so they can spend more time on treatment, and ultimately saving more lives through earlier diagnosis.”

Enormous potential

Matthew Gould, Chief Executive of NHSX, added: “Artificial intelligence holds enormous potential for the NHS and in many areas is already providing radical benefits for patients and clinicians.

“The use of this latest testing technology is another huge step forward enabling us to provide earlier diagnosis of disease and improve patient care and treatment outcomes while also freeing up NHS staff”.

The scheme is one of 42 innovations that are being supported by the first round of the AI in Health and Care Award programme, managed by the Accelerated Access Collaborative in partnership with NHSX and the National Institute for Health Research.

Increase in testing rate

In a project at Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust, the team found that by allowing people with type 1 diabetes to self-test at home, the testing rate rose from 0% to 79% among the consented untested population. Almost 1 in 5 were found to have abnormal or highly abnormal results.

Dr David Lipscomb, diabetes clinical lead at Sussex Community Foundation NHS Trust, said:

“The service has enabled us to identify and prioritise follow-up care for people who may have early-stage chronic kidney disease that could have otherwise gone undetected.

“It allows us to offer our patients a new way of engaging with their care that is more convenient for both patients and staff.”

With the chronic kidney disease Early Detection Service, people receive a test kit by post, which includes a standard urine dipstick, a urine collection pot and a patented colour board. 

An app guides the user through the test, which includes scanning the dipstick on the colour board using a standard smartphone camera.

GP follow up

Using AI and colourmetric analysis, the app is able to read the dipstick results equivalent to a lab-based device. Results are then shared instantly with the individual’s GP practice, which can follow up if there is an abnormal result.

During the ongoing pandemic, by offering at-home tests to populations at higher risk, such as those living with diabetes, the NHS can provide an easy alternative to visiting the clinic.

The technology is being tested and evaluated over a 3-year period to explore its benefits at scale before a potential roll-out across the NHS.

Dr Indra Joshi, Director of AI at NHSX, said:

“Through the AI Award we are testing some of the most promising AI-based innovations to see if the NHS should consider spreading them on a much larger scale to even more patients”.

According to an independent evaluation by the York Health Economics Consortium, if rolled out nationally’s solution has the potential to save more than 11,000 lives and save the NHS at least £660 million over 5 years.

Katherine Ward, Chief Commercial Officer and Managing Director of UK and Europe,, said:

“Chronic kidney disease is a silent killer and has a major impact on society, yet very few people are aware of its dangers. Early detection of the disease from the comfort of home will help people avoid dialysis or transplant and will be a huge cost saving for the NHS”.