AI may be able to make certain types of tests and therapeutics more available to a larger swath of the population because it could help frontline clinicians, like primary care doctors and nurse practitioners, to perform specialized testing like ultrasounds. That’s because AI can provide real-time guidance and feedback that will enable them to perform these tests in a primary care setting. AI could also help them to interpret those results.
Handheld Point of Care Ultrasounds (POCUS) machines can help to change the imaging paradigm because they’re sometimes cheap enough for physicians to own them, as opposed to the hospitals. They’re also portable, which means that physicians can take them to any care setting that they’re working in, including their clinics. This development has important implications for patients in rural healthcare settings who are often referred to distant facilities to get these types of examinations done.
Physicians are now using POCUS to help with diagnostic testing, making it easier for them to rule in or out specific diagnoses. This stops them from being forced to transfer patients to hospitals that are miles away from where they live, only for them to have normal imaging and to be immediately discharged. AI can make this possible. A robust AI on POCUS machines can give the user immediate actionable feedback to improve the image, such as, “Tilt the probe toward the patient’s head to acquire the proper apical four chamber image of the heart that includes both atria and both ventricles.” This would be a marked improvement over an image which only had the left and right ventricle.
This type of AI feedback has immediate benefits for diagnoses, because it allows physicians to acquire a more standardized and easily interpretable POCUS image. But this is just a short-term benefit, and the long-term impact of immediate AI feedback could be even greater. If AI is built into our POCUS systems, it can perform a role like an expert practitioner at the bedside, but with a lower pressure environment that makes it easier for new POCUS users to gradually improve their skills over time.