Northern Ireland

New X-ray app can be used for testing and training worldwide

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Media captionDr Tom Lynch said the medical and IT worlds have come together to produce something unique

A group of medical consultants in Belfast have teamed up with IT specialists to develop a mobile app that can identify where a doctor is going wrong when interpreting X-rays.

The app helps medics develop their skills.

It also identifies areas of weakness that can be worked on in training and that could potentially save lives.

According to those behind the training tool, it is the first of its kind in the world.

Dr Tom Lynch is among the founders.

He said: "This is the medical and IT worlds coming together in Northern Ireland and producing something which is really unique."

The app provides immediate feedback, and the more it is used by a doctor the more targeted and personalised the feedback becomes.

Each doctor has particular strengths and weaknesses - this app means that the doctors are highlighted and then targeted.

Primarily the device, known as Experior, will be used in accident and emergency and cancer departments, but could eventually be rolled out across all health specialities and even into education, industry and financial services.

Huge potential

Dr Lynch is head of nuclear medicine at the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre in Belfast.

In a coffee shop on Belfast's Lisburn Road, his iPad allows me to see the app in action. Visibly excited by it, Dr Lynch says it is a simple tool but with huge potential.

On screen there are 30 different X-ray images each displaying a particular condition. The doctor's task is to identify the diagnosis, submit their answer and have it marked.

Pointing at the screen Dr Lynch said: "For instance this X-ray shows a fractured jaw. This one shows a mass in the upper part of the chest. Another a hairline fracture in the skull.

"Some are obvious some aren't. But they are typical X-rays that a junior doctor and one who's been qualified a long time would see in an emergency department."

Essentially, this is a state-of-the-art testing and training tool - it will be used to improve the decisions made by junior doctors, and lets them know where they have gone wrong, immediately and over the longer term.

Because it is a mobile application, remotely monitored, medics right across the globe can use it.

Dr Lynch added: "We already have doctors as far away as Australia and New Zealand using our app. Wherever a doctor is in the world, X-rays are the same.

"So doctors can be learning wherever they're based and can study at home or at the hospital. Nearly 10,000 doctors are already using the NI developed app."

'World-class solution'

Kevin Donaghy provides the IT expertise.

He said: "When Tom first approached me with the idea of improving the skills of doctors with X-rays, I thought 'how do we build a solution that can be utilised by doctors and training organisations around the globe? How can we harness the best medical brains in the world to the benefit of all doctors and ultimately, all of their patients?'

"That's the bottom line - we wanted to develop a device that improves diagnosis and health care for everyone.

"With that in mind we used the 'lean start-up model' to prove that we can do this, and lead the way with the best medical and IT expertise in Northern Ireland to deliver a world-class solution. We really believe that Northern Ireland can lead the way in the development of innovative health solutions."

The BBC understands that the Health Board may be interested in testing the app for 12 months before making a longer-term decision on its use across trusts in Northern Ireland.

A spokesperson for the board told the BBC that Northern Ireland has made great strides in recent years in using technology to give clinicians information to support better decisions for patients and clients.

"There is international recognition for our implementation of X-ray image-sharing technology, and the development of the Electronic Care Record that covers all of Northern Ireland. These achievements allow us to reduce the number of tests we perform, and provide better, safer care.

"One really important area is using 'smart' online learning to help keep professionals up to date in the latest treatments.

"We are excited by this proposal, and keen to look at how tools like this can help us to support better care. We will be working with this development and others to test whether it helps our staff on the ground."