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Is artificial intelligence the future of radiology? 3 key takeaways from RSNA 2017

by Miriam Sznycer-Taub

The Radiological Society of North America held its annual conference last month, showcasing the latest advancements and innovations in the field. Here are three key takeaways our team identified from the six-day event that featured 600-plus technical exhibitors. 

1. AI steals the show

The top trending topic across the conference space was artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on radiology. Many of the educational sessions on AI were standing room only, and several had to utilize overflow space to accommodate all those interested. The common theme from the presenters was that while AI will certainly be a transformative force for radiology, it is unlikely to fully replace the role of radiologists.

One session that stood out to our team was the plenary presentation by Dr. Keith Dryer, vice chair of radiology and director of the Center for Clinical Data Science at Massachusetts General Hospital. In his talk, Dryer noted that one of the major obstacles to developing AI for imaging is the lack of a "health care AI ecosystem." He said that the current approach has been to start with ideas, rather than needs. To shift this paradigm, Dryer encouraged attendees to help identify use cases for AI in radiology, arguing that there needs to be stronger dialogue between radiologists and data scientists. Dryer also shared some of the work that the ACR's Data Science Institute is undertaking to support the development and regulatory approval of AI algorithms.

Outside of the educational sessions, we got to check out the latest in AI products at the technical exhibition hall. The products at the exhibition  ranged from intelligent workflow solutions to diagnostic radiology algorithms. We saw AI products from both traditional radiology players, such as Philips, Siemens, and GE, as well as AI-specific vendors, such as  Zebra Medical Vision and CuraCloud. One attendee noted to our team that it felt that the number of AI vendors had doubled from last year.

2. Patient-centered radiology remains top of mind

As patients shop for imaging services, there is continued interest in developing patient-centered radiology programs. We attended one session where researchers shared work they had done to identify those factors most critical to patient satisfaction. From their research, the friendliness of reception was best correlated with the likelihood of a patient to return and was considered the best determinant of patient satisfaction.

Another area of interest for attendees was how to make radiology reports more accessible to patients. One notable approach shared during an educational session was to annotate radiology reports with pop-up definitions, images, and links to additional information. The end result is a report that maintains the original language, but is easier for patients to read.

In the exhibit hall, vendors highlighted how their equipment heightened patient comfort and safety. This was particularly evident in some MRI equipment, including Hitachi's Oasis Open MRI and Philips Ambient Experience MRI Suite.

3. Vendors look to improve workflow

As our team walked through the exhibit hall, we talked to many vendors about tools to improve imaging workflow. Some products focus on the technologist experience, streamlining the process for technologists to position and scan patients. Others focused more on the role of the radiologists, offering updated speech recognition technology or advanced visualization software.

Enterprise imaging IT continues to be a hot topic, with vendors highlighting new data analytics and health IR capabilities. There was continued interest in universal viewing platforms, vendor neutral archives, and cloud-based PACS.  

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