Radiology Centers Poised To Adopt Machine Learning

Posted on February 8, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

As with most other sectors of the healthcare industry, it seems likely that radiology will be transformed by the application of AI technologies. Of course, given the euphoric buzz around AI it’s hard to separate talk from concrete results. Also, it’s not clear who’s going to pay for AI adoption in radiology and where it is best used. But clearly, AI use in healthcare isn’t going away.

This notion is underscored by a new study by Reaction Data suggesting that both technology vendors and radiology leaders believe that widespread use of AI in radiology is imminent. The researchers argue that radiology AI applications are a “have to have” rather than a novel experiment, though survey respondents seem a little less enthusiastic.

The study, which included 133 respondents, focused on the use of machine learning in radiology. Researchers connected with a variety of relevant professionals, including directors of radiology, radiologists, techs, chiefs of radiology and PACS administrators.

It’s worth noting that the survey population was a bit lopsided. For example, 45% of respondents were PACS admins, while the rest of the respondent types represented less than 10%. Also, 90% of respondents were affiliated with hospital radiology centers. Still, the results offer an interesting picture of how participants in the radiology business are looking at machine learning.

When asked how important machine learning was for the future of radiology, one-quarter of respondents said that it was extremely important, and another 59% said it was very or somewhat important. When the data was sorted by job titles, it showed that roughly 90% of imaging directors said that machine learning would prove very important to radiology, followed by just over 75% of radiology chiefs. Radiology managers both came in at around 60%. Clearly, the majority of radiology leaders surveyed see a future here.

About 90% of radiology chiefs were extremely familiar with machine learning, and 75% of techs. A bit counterintuitively, less than 10% of PACS administrators reported being that familiar with this technology, though this does follow from the previous results indicating that only half were enthused about machine learning’s importance. Meanwhile, 75% of techs in roughly 60% of radiologists were extremely familiar with machine learning.

All of this is fine, but adoption is where the rubber meets the road. Reaction Data found that 15% of respondents said they’d been using machine learning for a while and 8% said they’d just gotten started.

Many more centers were preparing to jump in. Twelve percent reported that they were planning on adopting machine learning within the next 12 months, 26% of respondents said they were 1 to 2 years away from adoption and another 24% said they were 3+ years out.  Just 16% said they don’t think they’ll ever use machine learning in their radiology center.

For those who do plan to implement machine learning, top uses include analyzing lung imaging (66%), chest x-rays (62%), breast imaging (62%), bone imaging (41%) and cardiovascular imaging (38%). Meanwhile, among those who are actually using machine learning in radiology, breast imaging is by far the most common use, with 75% of respondents saying they used it in this case.

Clearly, applying the use of machine learning or other AI technologies will be tricky in any sector of medicine. However, if the survey results are any indication, the bulk of radiology centers are prepared to give it a shot.