AI in radiology is not new. In fact, the field is swarming with various apps and tools seeking to find a place in the radiologist’s toolkit to get more value out of medical imaging and improve patient care. So, how does a radiology team pick which tools to invest in? Enter Blackford Analysis, a health tech startup that has, simply put, designed an “app store” for radiology departments that liberates access to life-saving tech for radiologists. CEO Ben Panter explains how the platform not only gives radiologists access to a curated group of best-in-class AI radiology tools, but does so en-mass to circumvent the need for one-off approvals from hospital administrators and procurement teams.
Filmed at Bayer G4A Signing Day in Berlin, Germany, October 2019.
One big theme in AI research has been the idea of interpretability. How should AI systems explain their decisions to engender trust in their human users? Can we trust a decision if we don’t understand the factors that informed it?
I’ll have a lot more to say on the latter question some other time, which is philosophical rather than technical in nature, but today I wanted to share some of our research into the first question. Can our models explain their decisions in a way that can convince humans to trust them?
I am a radiologist, which makes me something of an expert in the field of human image analysis. We are often asked to explain our assessment of an image, to our colleagues or other doctors or patients. In general, there are two things we express.
What part of the image we are looking at.
What specific features we are seeing in the image.
This is partially what a radiology report is. We describe a feature, give a location, and then synthesise a conclusion. For example:
There is an irregular mass with microcalcification in the upper outer quadrant of the breast. Findings are consistent with malignancy.
You don’t need to understand the words I used here, but the point is that the features (irregular mass, microcalcification) are consistent with the diagnosis (breast cancer, malignancy). A doctor reading this report already sees internal consistency, and that reassures them that the report isn’t wrong. An common example of a wrong report could be:
AI in medical imaging entered the consciousness of radiologists just a few years ago, notably peaking in 2016 when Geoffrey Hinton declared radiologists’ time was up, swiftly followed by the first AI startups booking exhibiting booths at RSNA. Three years on, the sheer number and scale of AI-focussed offerings has gathered significant pace, so much so that this year a decision was made by the RSNA organising committee to move the ever-growing AI showcase to a new space located in the lower level of the North Hall. In some ways it made sense to offer a larger, dedicated show hall to this expanding field, and in others, not so much. With so many startups, wiggle room for booths was always going to be an issue, however integration of AI into the workflow was supposed to be a key theme this year, made distinctly futile by this purposeful and needless segregation.
By moving the location, the show hall for AI startups was made more difficult to find, with many vendors verbalising how their natural booth footfall was not as substantial as last year when AI was upstairs next to the big-boy OEM players. One witty critic quipped that the only way to find it was to ‘follow the smell of burning VC money, down to the basement’. Indeed, at a conference where the average step count for the week can easily hit 30 miles or over, adding in an extra few minutes walk may well have put some of the less fleet-of-foot off. Several startup CEOs told us that the clientele arriving at their booths were the dedicated few, firming up existing deals, rather than new potential customers seeking a glimpse of a utopian future. At a time when startups are desperate for traction, this could have a disastrous knock-on effect on this as-yet nascent industry.
It wasn’t just the added distance that caused concern, however. By placing the entire startup ecosystem in an underground bunker there was an overwhelming feeling that the RSNA conference had somehow buried the AI startups alive in an open grave. There were certainly a couple of tombstones on the show floor — wide open gaps where larger booths should have been, scaled back by companies double-checking their diminishing VC-funded runway. Zombie copycat booths from South Korea and China had also appeared, and to top it off, the very first booth you came across was none other than Deep Radiology, a company so ineptly marketed and indescribably mysterious, that entering the show hall felt like you’d entered some sort of twilight zone for AI, rather than the sparky, buzzing and upbeat showcase it was last year. It should now be clear to everyone who attended that Gartner’s hype curve has well and truly been swung, and we are swiftly heading into deep disillusionment.
Super-resolution* promises to be one of the most impactful medical imaging AI technologies, but only if it is safe.
Last week we saw the FDA approve the first MRI super-resolution product, from the same company that received approval for a similar PET product last year. This news seems as good a reason as any to talk about the safety concerns myself and many other people have with these systems.
Disclaimer: the majority of this piece is about medical super-resolution in general, and not about the SubtleMR system itself. That specific system is addressed directly near the end.
Super-resolution is, quite literally, the “zoom and enhance” CSI meme in the gif at the top of this piece. You give the computer a low quality image and it turns it into a high resolution one. Pretty cool stuff, especially because it actually kind of works.
In medical imaging though, it’s better than cool. You ever wonder why an MRI costs so much and can have long wait times? Well, it is because you can only do one scan every 20-30 minutes (with some scans taking an hour or more). The capital and running costs are only spread across one to two dozen patients per day.
So what if you could get an MRI of the same quality in 5 minutes? Maybe two to five times more scans (the “getting patient ready for the scan” time becomes the bottleneck), meaning less cost and more throughput.
Leave your bias aside and take a look into the healthcare future with me. No, artificial intelligence, augmented intelligence and machine learning will not replace the radiologist. It will allow clinicians to.
The year is 2035 (plus or minus 5 years), the world is waking up after a few years of economic hardship and maybe even some dreaded stagflation. This is an important accelerant to where we are going, economic hardship, because it will destroy most radiology AI startups that have thrived on quantitative easing polices and excessive liquidity of the last decade creating a bubble in this space. When the bubble pops, few small to midsize AI companies will survive but the ones who remain will consolidate and reap the rewards. This will almost certainly be big tech who can purchase assets/algorithms across a wide breadth of radiology and integrate/standardize them better than anyone. When the burst happens some of the best algorithms for pulmonary embolism, stroke, knee MRI, intracranial hemorrhage etc. etc. will become available to consolidate, on the “cheap”.
Hospitals can now purchase AI equipment that is highly effective both in cost and function, and its only getting better for them. It doesn’t make sense to do so now but soon it will. Consolidation in healthcare has led to greater purchasing power from groups and hospitals. The “roads and bridges” that would be needed to connect such systems are being built and deals will soon be struck with GE, Google, IBM etc., powerhouse hundred-billion-dollar companies, that will provide AI cloud-based services. RadPartners is already starting to provide natural language processing and imaging data to partners; that’s right, you speak into the Dictaphone and it is recorded, synced with the image you dictated, processed with everyone else to find all the commonalities in descriptors to eventually replace you. It is like the transcriptionists ghost of the past has come back to haunt us and no one cried for them. Prices will be competitive, and adoption will be fast, much faster than most believe.
Now we have some patients who arrive for imaging, as outpatients, ER visits, inpatients; it does not matter the premise is the same. Ms. Jones has chest pain, elevated d-dimer, history of Lupus anti-coagulant and left femoral DVT. Likely her chart has already been analyzed by a cloud-based AI (merlonintelligence.com/intelligent-screening/) and the probability of her having a PE is high, this is relayed to the clinician (PA, NP, MD, DO) and the study is ordered. She’s sent for a CT angiogram PE protocol imaging study. This is important to understand because there will be no role for the radiologist at this level. The recommendation for imaging will be a machine learning algorithm based off more data and papers than any one radiologist could ever read; and it will be instantaneous and fluid. Correct studies will be recommended and “incorrectly” ordered studies will need justifications without radiologist validation.
The year is 2019 and Imaging By Machines have fulfilled their prophesy and control all Radiology Departments, making their organic predecessors obsolete.
One such lost soul tries to decide how he might reprovision the diagnostic equipment he has set up on his narrow boat on the Manchester Ship Canal, musing at the extent of the digital take over during his supper (cod of course).
What I seek to do in this short paper is not to revisit the well-trodden road of what Artificial Intelligence, deep learning, machine learning or natural language processing might be, the data-science that underpins them nor limit myself to what specific products or algorithms are currently available or pending. Instead I look to share my views on what and where in the patient journey I perceive there may be uses for “AI” in the pathway.
I’ve been talking in recent posts about how our typical methods of testing AI systems are inadequate and potentially unsafe. In particular, I’ve complainedthat all of the headline-grabbing papers so far only do controlled experiments, so we don’t how the AI systems will perform on real patients.
Today I am going to highlight a piece of work that has not received much attention, but actually went “all the way” and tested an AI system in clinical practice, assessing clinical outcomes. They did an actual clinical trial!
Big news … so why haven’t you heard about it?
The Great Wall of the West
Tragically, this paper has been mostly ignored. 89 tweets*, which when you compare it to many other papers with hundreds or thousands of tweets and news articles is pretty sad. There is an obvious reason why though; the article I will be talking about today comes from China (there are a few US co-authors too, not sure what the relative contributions were, but the study was performed in China).
China is interesting. They appear to be rapidly becoming the world leader in applied AI, including in medicine, but we rarely hear anything about what is happening there in the media. When I go to conferences and talk to people working in China, they always tell me about numerous companies applying mature AI products to patients, but in the media we mostly see headline grabbing news stories about Western research projects that are still years away from clinical practice.
This shouldn’t be unexpected. Western journalists have very little access to China**, and Chinese medical AI companies have no need to solicit Western media coverage. They already have access to a large market, expertise, data, funding, and strong support both from medical governance and from the government more broadly. They don’t need us. But for us in the West, this means that our view of medical AI is narrow, like a frog looking at the sky from the bottom of a well^.
What are the challenges of bringing advanced imaging services to India? What motivates an entrepreneur to start build an MRI service? How does the entrepreneur go about building the service? In this episode, I discuss radiology in India with Dr. Harsh Mahajan, Dr. Vidur Mahajan and Dr. Vasantha Venugopal. Dr. Harsh Mahajan is the founder of Mahajan Imaging, a leading radiology practice in New Delhi, and now a pioneer in radiology research in India.
Listen to our conversation on Radiology Firing Line Podcast here.
Saurabh Jha is an associate editor of THCB and host of Radiology Firing Line Podcast of the Journal of American College of Radiology, sponsored by Healthcare Administrative Partner.