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Nov 4, 2019,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Artificial intelligence and diagnosing disease: study finds power of AI remains uncertain

After reviewing more than 20,000 articles on the effectiveness of artificial intelligence in detecting disease, researchers have found that the methodology used in these studies in not sufficiently solid for them to draw reliable conclusions. 

Is artificial intelligence truly able to make an effective medical diagnosis from images taken by a scanner, IRM or other device? The answer to that question remains uncertain according to a study published in The Lancet Digital Health in late September and which points to a lack of reliable studies on the subject. “Artificial intelligence (AI) seems able to detect disease from medical imagery just as accurately as human healthcare experts,” concluded the study’s authors, who also found, however, that the true potential of AI remains uncertain due to the lack of quality analysis available.


Unreliable methodologies


“We reviewed over 20,500 articles, but less than one percent of these were sufficiently robust in their design and reporting that independent reviewers had high confidence in their claims,” said Professor Alastair Denniston from University Hospitals Birmingham, who led the research.

The academic added: “What’s more, only 25 studies validated the AI models externally, using medical images from a different population, and just 14 studies actually compared the performance of AI and health professionals using the same test sample.”


Genuine potential


When applied to disease diagnosis, AI uses a technique known as “deep learning”, which allows machines to perform the complex tasks they have been programmed to perform, such as voice or visual recognition.

Within that handful of high-quality studies, we found that deep learning could indeed detect diseases ranging from cancers to eye diseases as accurately as health professionals,” commented Denniston.


No conclusive proof


Perhaps the better conclusion is that in the narrow public body of work comparing AI to human physicians, AI is no worse than humans, but the data are sparse and it may be too soon to tell,” said Tessa Cook, an assistant professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania (USA), making an independent observation on the findings.

She added that comparing the two was risky and said that human physicians work in the real world, where data are “messy, elusive, and imperfect”.


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