Unlocking the potential of artificial intelligence

The potential applications of AI are wide-ranging.

Priscilla Lynch

Posted: Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Pearse Keane MD, FRCOphth

Ophthalmology is leading the way in unlocking the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in the medical arena, and AI will very soon revolutionise the way patients are diagnosed and treated, according to one of the pioneers in the field.
Pearse Keane MD, FRCOphth, Consultant Ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital, UK, has led the development of a groundbreaking AI algorithm that applied novel deep learning technology to clinically heterogeneous three-dimensional macular optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans. The resulting algorithm was able to recommend the correct referral decision for more than 50 sight-threatening retinal diseases with 94% accuracy, matching or exceeding world-leading ophthalmologists in a proof-of-concept trial.
Having published the data in Nature Medicine in 2018, Dr Keane is keen to see the findings implemented in real life, and hopes that a clinical model can be ready within the next couple of years.

Wide-ranging potential

But that is only the beginning – the potential applications of AI in ophthalmology are wide-ranging and will one day assist in screening and triaging as well as diagnosing, treating and predicting outcomes in patients in everyday clinical practice, Dr Keane, who will address the 2020 Spark Summit in Dublin on the topic of AI in medicine, contended.
“Despite all the hype around AI, it does have the potential to transform healthcare. Ophthalmology is going to be the first of all the medical specialties to be fundamentally transformed using AI and I am very excited about that,” he told EuroTimes.
“I firmly believe for AI to be successful in medicine and a specialty like ophthalmology, it has to be driven by healthcare professionals. I think if you empower ophthalmologists, we’ll come up with hundreds of applications for AI systems and be able to assess them.”
Furthermore, ophthalmology could be “an exemplar” for other medical specialties in the development, validation, implementation and adoption of AI, Dr Keane said. “So in other words, an exemplar in terms of identifying cases where AI can add value to patients, clinicians and healthcare institutions; and in setting up infrastructure where AI can aggregate and curate data for the development of AI systems; as well as the validation of these systems through randomised clinical trials that will properly demonstrate these things work and are safe and effective and bring benefits to patients.”

Replacing the doctor?

Dr Keane acknowledged that rolling out AI in medicine will have to be done in an incremental, evidenced-based manner.
“I think we need to balance enthusiasm and excitement for these new technologies with caution. They do have the potential to be transformative but there are lots of ways they may not work or go astray. We can still be enthusiastic but at the same time demand very high standards before we use them on patients.”
One of the key potential barriers is suspicion that AI could eventually replace clinicians or operate independently without oversight.
“Nobody is going to be replaced 
and no one is suggesting that we just let these systems loose on patients to do very important things such as decide whether they need an injection or surgery without a doctor/healthcare professional being in the loop. So the technology is still very young and we are trying to find the areas which can 
bring the best benefits for patients,” 
Dr Keane said.
He emphasised that AI will be just another, albeit very useful, tool for clinicians, against a background of ever-increasing demand for services.
“Given how busy we are now and will continue to be, everybody recognises that this is not a luxury to develop these technologies; it is a necessity.”

The second HSE Spark Summit will take place in the Convention Centre Dublin, Ireland, on February 13 and 14, 2020.For more information visit

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