From radiology to the exam room, AI is making its mark

Marc Zarefsky , Contributing News Writer

Questions abound regarding augmented intelligence (AI)—often called artificial intelligence—in seemingly every industry. How will it be implemented? How will it be regulated? Should it even be used in the first place?

For Stephen Parodi, MD, the answer to that last question—as it relates to health care—is easy.

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“AI is going to be significantly transformative. It already is within our clinical practices,” said Dr. Parodi, an infectious diseases physician and executive vice president for The Permanente Medical Group, which is a member of the AMA Health System Program that provides enterprise solutions to equip leadership, physicians and care teams with resources to help drive the future of medicine.

In a recent episode of “AMA Update,” Dr. Parodi discussed his optimism toward AI, as well as his concerns about its health care implementations.

Dr. Parodi is able to speak favorably about using AI in health care settings because he's seen its value firsthand at The Permanente Medical Group, which uses AI for advanced alerts—both inside and outside the hospital—to provide warnings for at-risk patients. The medical group also has leveraged AI in radiology to help detect cancer, specifically breast cancer.

“What's important is that it's not AI acting on its own,” Dr. Parodi said. “It's really augmenting our practice. … It's not replacing a radiologist. It's enhancing their ability to provide an accurate diagnosis."

Several months ago, the group introduced an ambient AI system that listens to clinical visits, captures patient-physician interactions, and then generates a note about the visit. Early indicators show the system could reduce documentation time for physicians and other health professionals by between one and two hours per day—a massive time savings.

However, that example hints at some of the questions that still need to be addressed regarding AI in health care.

“It raises questions around privacy, acceptance, and what from a regulatory standpoint is required to make sure there's accurate documentation and coding," Dr. Parodi said. “It's not as simple as just introducing it into the milieu.”

To help AI meet its full potential to advance clinical care and improve clinician well-being, the AMA has developed new advocacy principles that build on current AI policy. These new principles (PDF) address the development, deployment and use of health care AI.

Learn more with the AMA about the emerging landscape of augmented intelligence in health care (PDF).

While Dr. Parodi has seen benefits of AI in health care, he worries about the technology’s impact on health equity.

“How are we going to make sure that it's equitably used, that we don't have inadvertent redlining of patients?” he asked. “We want to make sure that we don't introduce unintended biases into our practice ."

To do that, Dr. Parodi believes processes need to be introduced to flag and correct inequities as part of a larger governance policy. That review process is a critical role he believes physicians can—and should—play moving forward.

Another major question Dr. Parodi still has is about how AI will be regulated. Not only does he say we need to understand which federal agencies will be addressing AI, but he wants to know if they will interact with physicians and get input about AI implementation.

His hope is that physicians, practices and health systems exploring AI adoption will discuss the operational as well as ethical considerations of its implementation.

As with so many examples when it comes to AI, Dr. Parodi believes success will ultimately come down to communication. 

“This is not just an IT thing,” he said. “This is about how we actually practice. You need the people who are involved with the actual clinical care [and] the people who are involved with back-end operations coming together, just as we would with any other initiative.”

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