News round-up (26 April 2024)

man looking at online news headlines
25th April 2024 about a 6 minute read

Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to demonstrate its potential in healthcare, with two separate studies showing AI software performing better than clinicians in detecting particular conditions. Virtual reality, meanwhile, is showing promise both in spotting early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and in reducing stress and anxiety amongst students. The mental health crisis continues to cause concern, however, with one report saying that school absences are being driven by an increase in poor mental health, and criticising the government for its policy of fining parents whose children are absent from school.


Main stories from the week

People detained under the Mental Health Act dying at three times the rate of those held in prisons

People sectioned under the Mental Health Act are dying at three times the rate of those held in prisons, figures have revealed.

More than 15,000 patients died in the care of mental health trusts in one year

More than 15,000 people are estimated to have died in a single year while being cared for by community mental health teams, according to figures leaked to the Independent newspaper.

Artificial intelligence performs better than doctors, studies find

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been found to perform better than doctors in two separate studies.

Virtual reality game will help detect early signs of Alzheimer’s

A new virtual reality game will be used to spot early signs of Alzheimer’s disease by assessing how well people navigate their surroundings.


And other stories from the week…

Poor mental health is reason for absence crisis, DfE told

The high number of school absences is being driven by poor mental health and long waits for support, according to a new report from the Centre for Mental Health and the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition.

Last term, absence rates were higher than for the spring term in 2023, according to the latest government figures. The figures also show that persistent absence has increased.

The report states that “punitive approaches to improving attendance”, such as fining parents, do not work and could risk making the situation worse for families struggling with poverty and unmet mental health needs.

It described the rise in the number of parents being fined for their child’s absence as “alarming.” Fines amounting to £3.7 million were issued in June 2022 alone.

Climate change is causing mental health crisis for workers

Climate change is helping to create a crisis in workers’ mental health, according to a new global report.

Extreme weather, climate change-induced disasters and exposure to excessive heat are all contributing to anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency.

“Workers may feel distress related to financial and workload problems and from loss of hope for the future of their community,” the ILO said in its latest report into threats facing workers. It argues that climate change risks hurting the mental health of some workers by worsening their financial situation. Farmers and fishermen, for example, are more likely to suffer lower crop yields and falling fish numbers because of rising temperatures.

New virtual reality experience improves student mental health

St George’s University of London is using virtual reality to reduce students’ stress and anxiety.

The university has been working with Phase Space to develop technology that uses hypnosis-based stress management techniques, including breathing and visualisation. The graphics used in the technology are designed to focus the headset wearer’s attention to achieve a deep state of calm within minutes.

One hundred St George’s healthcare students were recruited to the trial between October and November 2023. They were randomly assigned to view the VR content, focused on dealing with exam stress, either using a Phase Space headset or as a 2D video on their smartphone. Both groups completed a seven-minute VR session every day for five days.

Before and after each session, participants were asked to report how calm, stressed, and anxious they felt on a scale of 0 to 10. Students in the VR headset group showed greater improvements in all measures immediately after the sessions compared to the control group.    

In Saudi Arabia, machine learning model helps reduce outpatient no-shows

In Saudi Arabia, the King Abdulaziz Medical City hospital has been able to reduce the number of no-shows by applying artificial intelligence (AI) to its analytics.

The AI tool is able to predict which patients might be most likely to miss their appointments in ambulatory settings. The hospital takes data from its electronic health record (EHR) – patient summaries, clinical information, appointment history – and processes and trains it for AI models that can alert physicians within the EHR. This then enables them to send needed reminders to their patient and to book appointments within their own workflows.

Huda Al Ghamdi, director of data and business intelligence management at the country’s Ministry of National Guard Health Affairs, said: “The clinician can see that that patient scheduled for that day has a potential to not attend the appointment. And by having this kind of a flag within the medical record system, the clinician can send additional reminders, or, for example, asking the patient services to do a kind of call in order to remind the patient.”

New AI brain study offers hope to childhood trauma survivors

The world’s largest study into how childhood trauma affects the brain, carried out by researchers at the University of Essex, has offered new hope to survivors.

Artificial intelligence (AI) was used to re-examine hundreds of brain scans of people who experienced abuse and acute emotional pain as children.

The study found that trauma changes how a young brain develops and affects areas such as problem-solving and empathy.

Dr Megan Klabunde, a psychology lecturer and study lead, said the findings could lead to new treatment to reverse those effects: “We’ve shown there are clear changes to two big clusters in the brain. We now know that problem-solving and self-focus are affected, which means someone could struggle with emotions, forming relationships and even understanding their own bodies.”

Memory and decision-making were also influenced, she added.

New AI-powered ultrasound machines for women’s health

GE HealthCare has launched two ultrasound systems equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) software designed help clinicians diagnose women’s health conditions.

The AI tools used in the systems are able to automatically identify and annotate measurements of fetal anatomy and provide step-by-step guidance for assessing the structure of the fetus’s heart.

The software can also help in the imaging of pelvic floors, and the mapping and classification of fibroids. GE HealthCare said the software can help reduce the total amount of time needed for an ultrasound examination.