"These AI tools have a real opportunity to make a difference," said Eric Topol, a cardiologist and geneticist at Scripps Research in San Diego, and author of an upcoming book on the use of machine learning in health care, which was not involved in the investigation. . "But it's going to take a while."
Using neural network technology, Dr. Zhang has developed systems that can analyze eye scans for bleeding, injury and other signs of diabetic blindness. Ideally, such systems would serve as the first line of defense, selecting patients and locating those who need more attention.
Dr. Zhang and his colleagues have now created a system that can diagnose an even wider range of conditions by recognizing patterns in the text, not just in medical images. The new system analyzed the electronic medical records of nearly 600,000 patients at the Women's and Children's Medical Center in Guangzhou, a hospital in southern China.
First, a group of trained doctors recorded the Guangzhou records, adding labels that identified information related to certain medical conditions. The system then analyzed the tagged data. When he was done and presented with new data (the symptoms of a certain patient during a physical examination) he was able to establish connections on his own.
When tested with unlabelled data, the system could rival the performance of experienced physicians. It was more than 90 percent accurate in the diagnosis of asthma; The accuracy of the doctors in the study ranged from 80 to 94 percent. In the diagnosis of gastrointestinal diseases, the system had an accuracy of 87 percent, compared to the accuracy of doctors from 82 to 90 percent.
Experts said that extensive clinical trials are now needed, especially given the difficulty of interpreting decisions made by neural networks.
"Medicine is a field of slow movement," said Ben Shickel, a researcher at the University of Florida who specializes in the use of deep learning for medical care. "Nobody is going to implement one of these techniques without rigorous tests that show exactly what is happening."