Treatments & Research

The Next Revolution

Artificial intelligence is shaping the future of healthcare

For many, the mention of artificial intelligence (AI) stirs up a mixture of awe and unease – or the notion that robots could take over the world. AI may be unnerving to some, but Shriners Children’s leaders have been working to harness this technology to improve healthcare jobs and patient outcomes.

AI refers to computer programs that mimic human thinking, learning and behavior. This enables computers to perform complex tasks like language comprehension and data analysis.

“AI is the next industrial revolution,” said John McFarland, chief information officer for Shriners Children’s. “In healthcare, there’s a misperception that machines could replace doctors. But no machine could ever understand the nuances of the patient-doctor relationship.”

What role should AI play in healthcare?

According to McFarland, AI’s role will evolve as our understanding grows. “The technology is here, with opportunities to provide tools that enhance healthcare,” he said. “As a society, we need to get comfortable with the concept.”

And Shriners Children’s is doing just that. Clinicians and researchers from Shriners Children’s gathered for the State of the Science conference and Certificate Program on AI in Healthcare hosted by Georgia Institute of Technology. The course demonstrated how AI will deliver improvements in healthcare faster than previous technologies. Shriners Children’s physicians were excited to collaborate with Georgia Tech graduate students to explore how AI could improve their work.

AI advances are undoubtedly shaping the future of healthcare and making an impact. The conference’s common thread was using AI to detect patterns, enhance clinical tools and identify patient attributes to create large data pools for research.

Harnessing AI for hopeful treatments

One study presented at the State of the Science conference explored how AI is helping kids with cerebral palsy (CP), who are often at high risk for hip displacement. X-rays can help detect hip displacement early and help doctors identify when treatment will have optimal results, a strategy called hip surveillance. When these patients get hip surveillance X-rays, they require expert interpretation, which is not readily available in many health systems. Vedant Kulkarni, M.D., assistant chief of orthopedic surgery and medical director of the Motion Analysis Center at Shriners Children’s Northern California, worked with computer scientists to develop an AI tool that automatically measures hip surveillance X-rays to specialist-level accuracy.

One study at the State of the Science conference explored how AI can help in the early detection of hip displacement in children with cerebral palsy and can help provide effective treatment.

“Our hope is this AI-powered tool will give more providers access to the critical information they need to provide the best possible care for children with CP,” said Dr. Kulkarni. “AI can be used to democratize expertise and improve the health of more children.”

McFarland describes the current technology as “augmented intelligence,” with enhancements in the last several years, including EPIC, the electronic medical record system, and the Research Data Warehouse, a repository that integrates and stores clinical data for research purposes from all Shriners Children’s locations. These are foundational rollouts.

“We are looking at products with AI capabilities to reduce clerical work, freeing up clinicians to spend more time with patients and clinical decision-making. How do we auto-generate physician notes?” he said. “How can we use AI as a clinical tool to analyze diagnostic imaging accurately and efficiently, such as MRIs and X-rays? We can use AI to operate at the next level for our patients.”