August 15, 2018
Artificial intelligence will improve medical treatments
“It will not imminently put medical experts out of work
FOUR years ago a woman in her early 30s was hit by a car in London. She needed emergency surgery to reduce the pressure on her brain. Her surgeon, Chris Mansi, remembers the operation going well. But she died, and Mr Mansi wanted to know why. He discovered that the problem had been a four-hour delay in getting her from the accident and emergency unit of the hospital where she was first brought, to the operating theatre in his own hospital. That, in turn, was the result of a delay in identifying, from medical scans of her head, that she had a large blood clot in her brain and was in need of immediate treatment. It is to try to avoid repetitions of this sort of delay that Mr Mansi has helped set up a firm called Viz.ai. The firm’s purpose is to use machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence (AI), to tell those patients who need urgent attention from those who may safely wait, by analysing scans of their brains made on admission.
That idea is one among myriad projects now under way with the aim of using machine learning to transform how doctors deal with patients. Though diverse in detail, these projects have a common aim. This is to get the right patient to the right doctor at the right time.
In Viz.ai’s case that is now happening. In February the firm received approval from regulators in the United States to sell its software for the detection, from brain scans, of strokes caused by a blockage in a large blood vessel. The technology is being introduced into hospitals in America’s “stroke belt”—the south-eastern part, in which strokes are unusually common. Erlanger Health System, in Tennessee, will turn on its Viz.ai system next week.
The potential benefits are great. As Tom Devlin, a stroke neurologist at Erlanger, observes, “We know we lose 2m brain cells every minute the clot is there.” Yet the two therapies that can transform outcomes—clot-busting drugs and an operation called a thrombectomy—are rarely used because, by the time a stroke is diagnosed and a surgical team assembled, too much of a patient’s brain has died. Viz.ai’s technology should improve outcomes by identifying urgent cases, alerting on-call specialists and sending them the scans directly.
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