New digital tool aims to reduce diagnosis delays in those with chronic breathlessness

Posted by: Jamie Sharp - Posted on:

University experts are helping to create a quicker pathway to diagnosis (cause) for adults living with chronic breathlessness.

Dr Gillian Doe, research programme manager and respiratory physiotherapist at the University of Leicester, and Clinical Associate Professor Rachael Evans, Consultant Respiratory Physician at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, are collaborating with Lenus Health to transform the way in which individuals living with breathlessness are diagnosed to speed up treatment. 

Leicester and Hinckley Community Diagnostic Centres (CDCs) will also form part of the groundbreaking collaboration to help those with breathlessness – a distressing symptom affecting around 10% of the UK population. Often notoriously complex to diagnose, it can result in long delays to treatment for patients, with over 66% of cases caused by underlying cardiorespiratory diseases. 

The CDC project will transform the existing symptom-based care pathway using digital tools to reduce delays to diagnosis. It will combine triage, parallel testing and a streamlined, integrated and structured approach to diagnosis data capture. By using the Lenus Diagnose pathway product, the project aims to show significant reductions in time to diagnosis and treatment by bringing in remote specialist input earlier into decision making.

Dr Evans, said: “Our recent research at University of Leicester shows delays to diagnosis are associated with worse patient outcomes and hospital admissions, and that earlier parallel testing can help. This project has the potential to improve the local situation by effective implementation of the NHS-England diagnostic breathlessness pathway through the CDC and Lenus software enabling remote earlier specialist input where needed.”

To complement the CDC project, an InnovateUK funded scheme between the University of Leicester and Lenus Health, will also gather evidence of the intervention benefits to patients. 

Dr Doe added: “Our team is committed to research in improving the pathway to diagnosis and symptom management for individuals living with breathlessness. The Innovate UK and CDC funding will support the digital optimisation of the Breathlessness pathway in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. We’re very excited to be working in partnership with Lenus and NHS partners to deliver this.” 

The project builds on the Lenus Diagnose product successfully implemented in Heart Failure, wider cardiovascular disease, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) pathways where it has significantly reduced time to diagnosis and treatment and delivered service efficiencies to the healthcare system. Jim McNair, Director, Lenus Health said: “Breathlessness diagnosis is complex and we are delighted to be working in partnership across Leicestershire healthcare providers to optimise activities and join up data to speed up diagnosis and time to treatment.

“This not only helps the patients themselves but reduces pressure at our hospital front doors because of undiagnosed and untreated disease.” 

The project led by Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Integrated Care Board (ICB) includes primary care, secondary care and academia to support its implementation. At the forefront of this initiative is Leicester and Hinckley CDCs, run by University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, where patients’ test results will be integrated into the pathway aligning with the GP Direct Access guidelines, endorsed by NHS England.  

Dr Louise Ryan, GP and clinical lead for respiratory illness at Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland (LLR) ICB, said: “Breathing difficulties affect many patients in our local area and this initiative will help us, in many cases, to diagnose the underlying cause in GP practices, without having to refer patients to secondary care. This will speed up diagnosis for patients and means that they can be treated sooner, without having to visit a hospital.”