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How Artificial Intelligence is Making ‘Smarter’ Physicians

October 28, 2019

How Artificial Intelligence is Making ‘Smarter’ Physicians

By Melissa Hagstrom, contributor

From interpreting vast sets of data to helping a clinician make an important diagnosis, there are countless ways that artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting healthcare and helping to enhance workflow.

Yet, the proliferation of AI, advanced technology and automation in healthcare leads to some essential questions. How do these elements fit into the physician’s toolkit? And how can physicians best leverage technology to improve their practice and workflow, which in turn should translate into better patient outcomes?

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The sweet spot for AI in healthcare

The impact of AI in healthcare can really be seen in the area of data and image analytics and interpretation, according to Charles A. Taylor, PhD, the founder and chief technology officer for HeartFlow, a medical technology company that is transforming the way cardiovascular disease is diagnosed and treated. Taylor also teaches bioengineering at Stanford University and some classes in biomedical engineering for the Technical University of Eindhoven in The Netherlands.

“As an example, with a cardiac CT scan, if you look at all of the information that is being required—spatial resolution, multiple timeframe, etc.—it’s practically impossible for a person to actually look at all of the data that is available,” Taylor explained. “This is true in the U.S. and Europe. In China, there are reports that up to 20 to 25 percent of the images that are required are never even looked at by a person. This is a global problem.”

Dealing with information overload

Physicians and other clinicians are inundated with so much information and data in today’s healthcare environment. Fortunately, AI can help them to interpret, extract and leverage that information.

“We’ve gotten really good at measuring things that we were never able to see before, but this has traded for a different problem—this data deluge that we have to address,” Taylor said.

“AI is a tool that is becoming absolutely indispensable,” he added. “AI will not replace physicians, but physicians who use AI will replace those who don’t.”

The successful union of physicians and artificial intelligence can help clinicians focus on items of higher importance while the automation in healthcare can tackle the infinite amount of data that comes in via labs, scans and other modalities.

The example of AI in treating coronary artery disease

HeartFlow technology enables clinicians to identify significant coronary artery disease and determine the optimal treatment pathway.

“We are using AI to dramatically improve the interpretation of cardiac CT data and improve the physician’s ability to make a diagnosis,” Taylor said. “With greater complexities, the patient gets more complex and maybe the quality of data is not as high as you would like. That is, in my opinion, where AI technologies can really, really shine. It’s almost achieving what you might think of as superhuman performance in the analysis and interpretation of data.”

This example of artificial intelligence in healthcare that has been shown to greatly reduce unnecessary invasive testing, reduce healthcare system costs, and improve the patient experience. Taylor said that AI is also helping physicians become more and more confident.

“One of our customers at a big hospital in the Midwest thinks of us as ‘the angel on their shoulder,’” he said. “Doctors are under so much pressure and the expectations of perfection are so high by society and by patients. They now have this advantage and the ability to leverage the power of computing and vast amounts of data I think can be really beneficial.”

The future is bright for AI in healthcare

Research is showing that artificial intelligence in healthcare can result in positive outcomes across the board.

“I truly believe there is an opportunity to save tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. healthcare systems with these types of technologies and actually deliver better care. That should be our expectation,” Taylor said.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Indiana University found that doctors who use AI to help them make treatment decisions improved patient outcomes by 50 percent while healthcare costs decreased by 50 percent.

“I think the patients are excited about AI; they want their doctor to deploy the very best, latest and greatest technology,” Taylor said. “And likewise, I think the physicians are happy to talk about it.”

“I don’t meet a lot of physicians who are worried about being displaced by AI. I think most of them realize that this is a really powerful tool,” he added. “The field is really exploding.”


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