Artificial Distance: AI in Teleradiology

Artificial intelligence has the potential to support the development, management and reach of teleradiology solutions across the world.

Teleradiology has been a part of the radiology service roster for more than 30 years, providing radiologists and physicians with expert care across distance and location. It offers immense value in providing for the primary interpretation of images for physicians or medical institutions in remote and rural areas and has applications in emergency care, relief work, international medical care and so much more. The teleradiology market has seen significant growth since its inception with the latest ResearchandMarkets report placing it at an estimated market size of $11.5 billion by 2026.

A growing market 

This market, according to the report, is being driven by the aging population, legislative amendments, and a focus on improving healthcare initiatives in rural areas. It is also seeing significant growth as a result of increased demand for 24/7 access to medical facilities. Hospitals and medical practices, regardless of size, are expected to provide patients with consistent access to care regardless of their limitations in terms of access or radiology department. Teleradiology provides access to services across the spectrum of specializations for smaller hospitals, to cover in-house absences, or to fill in the gaps at in-house departments.

In addition, the rapid growth of teleradiology has been, in part, driven by a growing respect for its capabilities and potential. In the past, it was viewed with a measure of skepticism by the medical industry. Today, it is seen as a service that supports the radiologist and medical practitioner in providing access to on-demand analysis and sub-specialty services. It is also keeping pace in the radiology industry, embedding artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to facilitate analysis and radiologist support.

In parallel with rapid growth, the teleradiology industry has also faced growing challenges and faces a number of paint points in which technologies like artificial intelligence are applicable. The need to cover very diverse geography, 24/7 support, an overload of data, variances in scanners and a requirement of a seamless workflow are all critical areas in which AI is already showing value. 

An Intelligent Addition

AI for radiology triage is often described as that ‘extra team member’, the one that sifts through the images and highlights areas of concern, prioritizing urgent cases so that the radiologist can adjust workflows to match patient needs. It has been embedded in numerous medical institutions across the world and has proven itself a valuable partner in the radiology environment. It’s not a replacement, the human touch will always be essential in both the final analysis and patient care, but AI has the ability to prioritize, allocate and alert in high-pressure situations.

Global Diagnostics Australia (GDA), a subsidiary of the Integral Diagnostics Group (IDG), was one of the first Australian diagnostic imaging companies to adopt AI as part of its radiology workflow. The company incorporated high-end algorithms into its care management pathway to expedite patient care and treatment across head, neck and chest conditions. The algorithms, part of Aidoc’s ‘Always-on’ AI solution, focus on prioritizing patients according to their critical status so that they are treated and diagnosed first. Aidoc has received several accreditations and approvals from leading healthcare bodies that include the Therapeutic Goods of Australia (TGA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Union CE. These apply specifically to the medical conditions of intracranial hemorrhage, pulmonary embolism and cervical-spine fracture.

Benefits of the ‘AI Team Member’ 

Aidoc allows for the systems to prioritize not only those patients onsite at GDA medical institutions but also for teleradiology services. The latter extends into vast remote and rural areas in Western Australia to ensure that patients are diagnosed and then transferred to the relevant medical facilities in critical situations. With the distances involved, AI supports the use of teleradiology to minimize waiting times for emergency patients that likely have to be transported to larger hospitals to receive treatment.  AI and teleradiology are perhaps the most symbiotic of relationships – working together, 24/7, to provide care across the distance without impacting on the quality or relevance of radiologist diagnosis.

An additional benefit of AI in teleradiology is, of course, that its ability to sift through high volumes of images to prioritize the most urgent also relieves some of the pressure on the overburdened radiologist. Implemented with intelligence, AI picks up enough weight that the radiologist can focus on the complex cases that require their specialist attention.  AI can effectively triage urgent cases, allowing for the improved allocation of radiologist resources and patient care. This is not the takeover by technology that some have darkly predicted, but rather a collaborative partnership with market-leading technology that supports radiology in improving outcomes and job satisfaction. In fact, research has found that teleradiology has the potential to reduce physician burnout in the profession as it can be customized to their availability and help alleviate mounting pressure.

Teleradiology is also unique in its requirements of an AI solution. Its data is extremely diverse, due to its high volume of scans that are of non-standard quality. The scans come from different types of machines, thus the quality is of the scans can impact the accuracy of the performance of an AI solution. When teleradiology service providers select an AI solution, they must consider all of these factors and make sure that the AI solution can integrate with different and multiple workflows, and a diverse data set to ensure quality is maintained. 

Aidoc, in partnership with IDG, has brought patient care to more than 400 thousand patients across Western Australia. Designed to work with IDG and GDA to bring about positive clinical outcomes and support for radiologists, Aidoc is shifting the dynamic of patient care and the potential of teleradiology using technology and algorithms that have global ramifications.

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