Artificial Intelligence

AI Tug of War Continues

The ongoing tug of war over AI’s value to radiology continues. This time the rope has moved in AI’s favor with publication of a new study in JAMA Network Open that shows the potential of a new type of AI language model for creating radiology reports.

  • Headlines about AI have ping-ponged in recent weeks, from positive studies like MASAI and PERFORMS to more equivocal trials like a chest X-ray study in Radiology and news from the UK that healthcare authorities may not be ready for chest X-ray AI’s full clinical roll-out. 

In the new paper, Northwestern University researchers tested a chest X-ray AI algorithm they developed with a transformer technique, a type of generative AI language model that can both analyze images and generate radiology text as output. 

  • Transformer language models show promise due to their ability to combine both image and non-image data, as researchers showed in a paper last week.

The Northwestern researchers tested their transformer model in 500 chest radiographs of patients evaluated overnight in the emergency department from January 2022 to January 2023. 

Reports generated by AI were then compared to reports from a teleradiologist as well as the final report by an in-house radiologist, which was set as the gold standard. The researchers found that AI-generated reports …

  • Had sensitivity a bit lower than teleradiology reports (85% vs. 92%)
  • Had specificity a bit higher (99% vs. 97%)
  • In some cases improved on the in-house radiology report by detecting subtle abnormalities missed by the radiologist

Generative AI language models like the Northwestern algorithm could perform better than algorithms that rely on a classification approach to predicting the presence of pathology. Such models limit medical diagnoses to yes/no predictions that may omit context that’s relevant to clinical care, the researchers believe. 

In real-world clinical use, the Northwestern team thinks their model could assist emergency physicians in circumstances where in-house radiologists or teleradiologists aren’t immediately available, helping triage emergent cases.

The Takeaway

After the negative headlines of the last few weeks, it’s good to see positive news about AI again. Although the current study is relatively small and much larger trials are needed, the Northwestern research has promising implications for the future of transformer-based AI language models in radiology.

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