AI in Medicine: Embrace or Resist?

Radiologist analyzing an X-ray | Image by vecstock/Freepik

As artificial intelligence’s power expands, its ability to enhance tasks like interpreting X-rays grows, potentially displacing some doctors’ work.

AI’s capabilities continue to grow rapidly. On May 13, the latest iteration of OpenAI’s ChatGPT was launched, allowing the new voice assistant to understand facial expressions and conduct conversations, among other improvements. As the tech evolves, workers are asking how long it will take to replace them.

While the ultimate outcome of AI’s proliferation is unknown, the technology will likely disrupt many industries, including medicine.

Radiologists are not new to advanced technology. Computers have been used to help interpret images for over three decades. With AI, however, computers can now ostensibly do much more: independently interpret scans, diagnose issues, and draft concluding reports.

In some cases, the AI backbone is trained on millions of X-rays, giving it a background that is hard for mere mortals to match.

While some people are embracing tech advancements, leveraging their power to improve their work, some medical professionals are skeptical. Radiologists, for example, do not all agree on how intensely the profession should embrace AI.

“If we don’t know on what cases the AI was tested, or whether those cases are similar to the kinds of patients we see in our practice, there’s just a question in everyone’s mind as to whether these are going to work for us,” said radiologist Dr. Curtis Langlotz, who runs an AI research center at Stanford University, reported the Associated Press.

Langlotz’s concerns are not unwarranted. In a study of more than 2,000 chest X-rays published in Radiology last year, AI performed worse than its human counterparts when identifying common lung diseases.

Another assessment, however, came to a different conclusion.

In a Swedish study of 80,000 women, a single radiologist using AI detected 20% more cancers than two radiologists who did not have access to the technology, according to AP.

In yet another study, reported by The Dallas Express in 2022, AI showed a promising ability to accurately predict a patient’s 10-year risk of heart attack or stroke based on a single X-ray scan.

Unsurprisingly, some, like Dr. Ronald Summers, a radiologist and AI researcher at the National Institutes of Health, are eager to leverage its power.

“Some of the AI techniques are so good, frankly, I think we should be doing them now. Why are we letting that information just sit on the table?” said Summers, per AP.

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