artificial intelligence, noun: The capacity of computers or other machines to exhibit or simulate intelligent behavior; the field of study concerned with this. Abbreviated AI.
A computer that can simulate intelligence may still sound like science fiction, but scientists across the globe are looking for ways to use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve our daily lives. For a group of UI researchers, the goal is to support health care on two fronts: staffing challenges and limiting unnecessary risks for health care professionals.
Led by interventional radiologist Sandeep Laroia, MD, the group is developing a mechanical device that could supplement staff by utilizing AI for simple interventional radiology (IR) procedures. Laroia says they’ve seen promising results so far, which earned the team a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Phase I grant.
Receiving the grant not only shows strong, national support for the project but also makes the team eligible for a Phase II grant from the foundation, which could supply the project with up to $1.5 million in funding.
Protecting professionals, serving patients
Interventional radiologists like Laroia diagnose and treat patients using minimally invasive technologies and techniques—catheters, guide wires, and several other devices—with radiological imaging.
The team is developing an advanced, complex algorithm that allows for a mechanism to act logically. The ideal device, Laroia says, would utilize logic based off the reasoning of physicians in order to determine how to treat a patient with a simple ailment.
“So, the idea is to have a device perform simpler medical tasks without involving me or another team member, that way we can focus on more complex tasks,” Laroia says.
He uses the example of a common IR procedure to treat ascites, a condition where excess fluid builds up around the spaces of the abdomen. Patients may come for treatment weekly, or, sometimes, even twice a week while the condition persists.
“Maybe the device does the procedure on its own or maybe I start the procedure and it alerts me when it’s done,” Laroia says.
While this could certainly supplement the IR team during a time when health care faces continued staffing shortages; the team’s AI device could also protect health care professionals by cutting down on unnecessary risks.
“We need that human healing touch, but it’s becoming increasingly complicated to get providers to the patient for a variety of reasons,” Laroia says. “In a pandemic, for example, we want to limit exposure, so we can keep ourselves and the patient healthy, for the sake of protecting our staff, but also because we need to be there for our patients.”
Bringing care to your neighborhood
Laroia also wants patients to know that this technology could be to their benefit as well, particularly those who live in more rural areas.
“Sometimes people travel several hours to get simple procedures done. So, the question is how can we decentralize some of these treatments so that they’re more readily accessible and not just in more urban areas?” Laroia says.
Laroia says there’s potential that an artificial intelligence device could be monitored or even used remotely by a physician like Laroia, meaning they could provide care from wherever they are.
“One of the challenges we continue to face is bringing advanced treatments to the patients,” he says. “We’re looking for ways to still deliver our high-quality care, but in patients’ neighborhoods.”