What is the promise of AI to radiologists? How will the future customize preventive medicine using cross-functional data, like genomics and historical data? Read on. 

One hundred and fourteen years ago, the first Röntgen Congress was held in Berlin to explore Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen’s discovery, X- Rays, a medical miracle and diagnostic tool, which allowed doctors to see inside the human body without surgery and eventually became the foundation of radiology.

This year, the 100th Röntgen Congress commemorated this long, illustrious history, and once again brought together experts from around the globe to explore new technologies that will transform their profession, this time with AI in the spotlight.

AI, the new X-ray?

Congress President and Director of Radiology at the Essen University Hospital, Professor Michael Forsting, says, “I wanted us to focus on the digitalization of radiology, Radiology 4.0, and by that, I mean the possibility of making better diagnoses with the data available to us by using artificial intelligence. At the moment, Google, Amazon or Apple have the most advanced algorithms, but not radiological data. That’s why we want to learn in this Congress what we radiologists can develop and get off the ground when it comes to AI.”

It is clear that AI and its subsets of Machine Learning, Deep Learning, and Computer Vision can already automate reports, detect lesions, classify and track nodules, and in the future promises to customize preventive medicine using cross-functional data, like genomics and historical data. 

Mega-Trends pressuring radiologists all over Europe

Another common thread throughout the congress was the urgency of such tools to relieve the workload pressure from trends like an aging population, lack of personnel and increased demand for imaging. From 2007 to 2015 alone, the German Federal Statistical Office estimates the number of CT and MRI images to have risen by 40% and 55% respectively.

The automation of certain parts of the workflow will free radiologists’ time, and allow them to take on more patients or to apply their skill and resources to complex cases. Anton Quinsten, Lead Radiology Technologist at the University Hospital Essen, says, “Today in Germany, there is a tremendous lack of technologists, meanwhile demographic change will cause a dramatic increase in requests for radiology imaging. We need new solutions to take on this challenge.” 

Quinsten continues, “Two main things will transform the radiology world, Automation, which will change our workflow and AI, which will perform certain diagnostics that are executed manually today. Our role will be to supervise and validate the results.”

Start-ups drive innovation in Medical Imaging.

Arterys Head of Machine Learning, Babak Rasolzadeh talks about the advantages of cloud computing and open modular diagnostic platforms in helping hospitals introduce AI to their practice with minimal workflow disruption. 

Arterys, an American startup leader in AI-powered medical image analysis was founded in 2011 to enable insight-driven medicine by leveraging cloud computation and artificial intelligence. 

One of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in 2018 , it was well received in Leipzig for its  FDA, CE marked CardioAI and LungAI clinical applications and its vision to not only provide AI-driven diagnostic applications but also to foster co-creation of these tools on its platform.

What will be the Radiologist of the Future?

When asked about the future of the radiologist, Rasolzadeh said, “My prediction is that we’re nowhere near replacing radiologists with AI, not even within the next generation or two. That’s almost science fiction.” 

He mentions that it’s a matter of augmenting them, making them better. Radiologists will be able to spend more time with patients because AI will replace the menial, repetitive tasks.

RöKo19 demonstrated two things: First, that AI, in its many forms, is here to stay and will be much-needed support to radiologists all over Europe. 

Second, that in the face of disrupting technological development, German radiologists are choosing to come forward to drive their field’s development, just as they have done for more than a hundred years.

Wilhelm Röntgen would be proud.

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