A.I. Makes Surgeons More Efficient, but Does Not Replace Them

(p. B6) Brain surgeons are bringing artificial intelligence and new imaging techniques into the operating room, to diagnose tumors as accurately as pathologists, and much faster, according to a report in the journal Nature Medicine.

The new approach streamlines the standard practice of analyzing tissue samples while the patient is still on the operating table, to help guide brain surgery and later treatment.

The traditional method, which requires sending the tissue to a lab, freezing and staining it, then peering at it through a microscope, takes 20 to 30 minutes or longer. The new technique takes two and a half minutes. Like the old method, it requires that tissue be removed from the brain, but uses lasers to create images and a computer to read them in the operating room.

. . .

Some types of brain tumor are so rare that there is not enough data on them to train an A.I. system, so the system in the study was designed to essentially toss out samples it could not identify.

Over all, the system did make mistakes: It misdiagnosed 14 cases that the humans got right. And the doctors missed 17 cases that the computer got right.

“I couldn’t have hoped for a better result,” Dr. Orringer said. “It’s exciting. It says the combination of an algorithm plus human intuition improves our ability to predict diagnosis.”

In his own practice, Dr. Orringer said that he often used the system to determine quickly whether he had removed as much of a brain tumor as possible, or should keep cutting.

“If I have six questions during an operation, I can get them answered without having six times 30 or 40 minutes,” he said. “I didn’t do this before. It’s a lot of burden to the patient to be under anesthesia for that long.”

Dr. Bederson said that he had participated in a pilot study of a system similar to the one in the study and wanted to use it, and that his hospital was considering acquiring the technology.

“It won’t change brain surgery,” he said, “but it’s going to add a significant new tool, more significant than they’ve stated.”

For the full story, see:

Denise Grady. “Speedy and Unerring, A.I. Comes to the Operating Room.” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 7, 2020): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 6, 2020, and has the title “A.I. Comes to the Operating Room.”)

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