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Can AI Transform Cardiology?

While technologies such as portable ultrasounds and ECG systems supplement lab results and clinical observations well, the smart use of data generated by these machines promises to further reduce uncertainty. AI can automate measurements and interpretations, empowering clinicians to see the full picture.

Walking into the cardiology department can rank among the most unsettling moments of someone’s life. Uncertainty mounts as resource-strained clinicians attempt to make the right diagnosis and then deliver the right treatment at the right time. But what if heart care teams could reduce the doubt?

They can. Combined with artificial intelligence (AI), common medical devices, from ultrasound systems and ECGs to CT and X-ray, capture more invaluable data than the human mind can comprehend. New algorithms, using AI and machine learning, are now being developed to deliver insights aimed at improving diagnostics, care quality, and workflows—when it matters most.

“It’s about adding value to data and making it actionable and clinically relevant, so we have an impact on each patient,” says Eigil Samset, GE Healthcare’s cardiology chief technology scientist.

How, exactly, is AI enabling cardiologists to operate at peak efficiency and effectiveness? We spoke with Samset to find out.

AI for Cardiology Produces Sound Diagnostic Decisions

When a patient enters the cardiology wing with heart palpitations, chest pain, or any other cardiac-related symptom, a speedy and accurate diagnosis is key. Yet misdiagnosis rates for conditions such as heart failure span between 16% and 69%, depending on the setting.[1]

While technologies such as portable ultrasounds and ECG systems supplement lab results and clinical observations well, the smart use of data generated by these machines promises to further reduce uncertainty. AI can automate measurements and interpretations, empowering clinicians to see the full picture.

For example, by combining several of GE Healthcare’s cardiology solutions, 3D CT angiography can show coronary stenosis, and cardiac MRI or molecular imaging can show the downstream functional effect. Digital innovations help put together the pieces of the diagnostic puzzle for patients suspected of a condition like coronary artery disease. The key is using diverse data sets and AI algorithms to complement the intuition of the cardiologist.

“We know that there are many misses. Patients have conditions that are not being uncovered in the first encounter,” Samset says. “Once you identify disease, we can make sure that the patient gets to the right next step in the pathway—that misses are minimized.”

Consider the complicated challenge of atrial fibrillation, which is poised to affect 12.1 million people in the United States within the decade. Cardiologists at Oregon Health & Science University are working with GE Healthcare to implement a well-designed AI model that could potentially help the doctors predict the progression of the disease. This capability may help treatment selection and management of these patients.[2]

AI Algorithms Promote High-quality Care

Treatment represents another high-stakes area where AI is enhancing cardiology.

“Once a patient is diagnosed, we can make sure that the pathway that they experience through their cardiovascular journey is optimised and tailored for them,” Samset says. “That’s where we see the power of AI, cardiology, and our vision for precision medicine: in the reality for patients who are affected by disease.”

Cardiologists are using guided imaging solutions such as X-ray and ultrasound systems to bolster minimally invasive and complex procedures alike. Algorithms fuse together imagery from different modalities, enabling clinicians to see the full picture and choose the best possible tools.

“And hopefully that procedure will lead to fixing the root cause of your condition,” Samset says.

Aurora Health Care’s flagship facility, Milwaukee-based Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, partnered with GE Healthcare to build a hybrid operating room to serve the needs of a transcatheter aortic valve repair program.

Real-time imaging and data enabled the cardiology department to drive clinical quality outcomes—and increase daily patient volume from 3 to 6 cases per day.[3]

After discharge, GE Healthcare’s cardiology solutions continue to collect data during patient follow-up. Future AI-based algorithms may be able to predict a patient’s progress and ultimately reduce hospital readmissions, by merging heterogenous hospital-data with home based monitoring.

AI Improves Cardiology Workflows

St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee improved turnover time by 50% to 75% and boosted hospital revenues.

Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center exemplifies how AI can streamline cardiology outcomes, clinician workflows, and enterprise efficiencies in one fell swoop. In the case of St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, they found that by improving capacity through the digitally driven hybrid operation room, heart care teams improved turnover time by 50 to 75% and boosted hospital revenues. The cardiology department, meanwhile, experienced greater productivity thanks to smoother workflows.

AI can reduce the time to perform laborious documentation and imaging interpretation, for example, by providing an 83% pre-populated echo report,4 Samset says.

“AI can save time, but also improves reproducibility because the machines will do it the same way every single time,” he adds.

“Technology is not there to replace the cardiologist. It’s there to empower them to spend more time with their patients.”

AI algorithms also help reduce clinician and patient exposure to radiation—while still obtaining optimal imaging quality. GE Healthcare’s guided imaging solutions leverage AI to ensure each dose of radiation is optimised and monitored along the way. For clinicians who spend their days in a cath lab, that sense of safety is invaluable.

Department and enterprise-level AI-powered tools have made strides in understanding patient flow, breaking bottlenecks, issuing real-time notifications so that clinicians can prioritise which patients need their attention, and more.

“The cardiology department is sometimes a logistical nightmare,” Samset says. “Our tools can help optimise it to save costs and ultimately improve outcomes.”

The Future of AI and Cardiology

Heart care teams that fail to leverage AI and advancing technological breakthroughs risk suboptimal patient outcomes, unnecessary readmissions, and cumbersome or even dangerous workflows. Health systems, meanwhile, lose out on revenue and face a more difficult transition to value-based care.

“You will be left behind,” Samset says.

Cardiology departments that deploy AI-enabled technologies may find opportunities to increase access to quality care, including in underserved communities. Organisations, clinicians, and patients gain peace of mind from knowing that they aren’t leaving anything to chance.

For all the uncertainty inherent to any care journey, that confidence is priceless.