Somerset research project could help people with potential liver disease

Clinicians and IT specialists in Somerset are launching an exciting new project to find people who have no symptoms but could be at risk of developing liver disease.

Predictive Health Intelligence (PHI) is a partnership of Somerset NHS Foundation Trust (FT), local liver specialist Dr Tim Jobson, who also works as a consultant at Somerset FT, and health information and IT expert Neil Stevens.

Funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, the PHI team has developed a new way of reviewing existing blood tests and finding people who may be at a higher risk of becoming ill.

Dr Jobson explains: “Liver disease places a huge burden on the health of the nation with one in nine people in the UK suffering from the condition.

“It accounts for 26,000 premature deaths and 100,000 years of lost life each year. In recent years, the cost to the NHS was £6 billion annually – which counted for five per cent of its budget.

“Liver disease is often symptom-free and many of those who die from it don’t see a doctor until it’s too late for treatment. One-off blood tests don’t help because clinicians need to look at blood test results over time. And existing healthcare IT systems weren’t built to help doctors identify those suffering from conditions like liver disease in this way.”

PHI has created a new search engine that allows GPs and clinicians to identify people who may be at risk, quickly and straightforwardly.

The team has created it to be simple to use, requiring no manuals and no training. It’s designed to be as intuitive and easy-to-use as Rightmove or AirBnB.

The new approach to liver disease is being tested this month when the PHI and Somerset FT team will use the search engine for the first time to identify 10 people who have blood test results going back over a few years that indicate they might benefit from further investigation.

As Dr Jobson explains: “This does not necessarily mean that the patient is ill, but that by looking at their historic blood tests they fall into a category where they are more likely to develop an illness in the years ahead.

“It is similar to the screening programmes we see for breast or bowel cancer: the trick is to find people before they are ill.”

Dr Mike Walburn, Somerset FT’s site director for Musgrove Park Hospital, said he was immensely proud of the PHI liver disease project. “This project demonstrates an innovative approach to improving patient care, quality of life and adding years to life,” he said.

“In addition, it has potential to massively reduce the cost of healthcare delivery by diagnosing and treating liver disease far earlier than previously possible.”