PIONEERING AI technology is being used for the first time in the UK in Oxford to detect a debilitating condition that often goes undiagnosed for years.

The Fracture Prevention Service at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is using the high-tech software to identify bone weakening condition osteoporasis.

Using a programme created by company Zebra Medical, the team is now able to detect spinal fractures caused by the condition from all CT scanners in its hospitals, which include the John Radcliffe, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, and Churchill in Oxford, as well as Banbury's Horton General.

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The fractures occur when the struts that make up the structure within the vertebrae bones become fragile and break easily following a minor injury or action such as heavy lifting.

The nurse-led project has resulted in significant advances in care for patients with osteoporosis.

As the condition develops slowly over several years it is frequently only diagnosed when a minor fall or sudden impact causes a bone fracture.

Sarah Connacher, a Specialist Nurse Practitioner in Fracture Prevention and Osteoporosis at the trust, said: “Using AI technology to detect vertebral fractures has been an exciting development to the already excellent Fracture Prevention Service in Oxfordshire.

“This is something to be celebrated, not only for it being a nurse-led service but also for the significant advancement in care for vulnerable patients.”

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While the Oxford Fracture Prevention Service assess all patients who come in with a fracture caused by a fall for osteoporosis, patients with an osteoporotic spinal fracture are often missed as they rarely seek medical help.

Using AI has helped the Oxford Fracture Liaison Service, based at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford, with its aim of identifying all patients with an osteoporotic spinal fracture.

In addition to improving patient care, early identification and treatment of these fractures can predict future fractures, such as hips and wrists.

The AI algorithm re-analyses the CT images of any trust patient over the age of 50.

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The CT scans will have been carried out for reasons other than a vertebral fracture and are screened by the AI software.

Those positive for fractures are identified and analysed further by experienced nurses.

So far, more than 100 patients with a previously unknown osteoporotic vertebral fracture have been successfully identified, assessed, and put onto osteoporosis treatment by the team thanks to the help of the AI. The team presented their work at the World Congress in Osteoporosis in Paris in April.