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What Are the Pros and Cons of Ultrasound AI?

Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) documentation

In medical imaging, ultrasound technology plays a key role due to its ability to provide real-time visualizations inside the human body. Ultrasound technology has revolutionized diagnostic accuracy, efficiency, and patient outcomes, and the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to accelerate this revolution. However, like any technology, ultrasound AI presents both benefits and challenges.

Advantages of Ultrasound AI

Greater Access to Ultrasound Benefits

One of the barriers to the widespread adoption of point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) has been the steep learning curve associated with ultrasound image acquisition and interpretation. Ultrasound AI can offer guidance and training directly through the device. AI-driven training tools can provide consistent, on-demand instruction, allowing healthcare providers to learn at their own pace and on their own schedule. This scalability is crucial in training large numbers of healthcare providers efficiently, especially in remote or underserved areas where access to expert trainers may be limited. Additionally, AI acts as a quality assurance tool, continuously monitoring scans to ensure learners acquire good-quality images. This real-time feedback helps maintain high standards in ultrasound imaging, ensuring clinicians continue to acquire accurate and reliable scans long after their initial training.

More than three-quarters of respondents (76%) in Exo’s 2023 POCUS Survey Report said AI’s learning assistance capabilities are one of the technology’s top benefits. In an article published by the American College of Emergency Physicians, Denver Health Department of Emergency Medicine doctors testified that even inexperienced STEM students have consistently obtained accurate bladder ultrasound images with the help of AI.

Furthermore, advancements in mobile computational resources have enabled AI to run on the edge, meaning no internet connection is required. This makes it more accessible to healthcare providers in remote or underserved areas. Greater access to ultrasound speeds diagnosis and improves patient outcomes regardless of location.

Enhanced Image Quality and Interpretation

AI algorithms are designed to analyze complex ultrasound data and can enhance images by reducing noise and improving the clarity of the visual output. Clearer images could help clinicians identify and diagnose conditions more accurately and swiftly.

The algorithms can automatically identify typical patterns and anomalies in ultrasound images to assist less experienced operators in making accurate diagnoses. Additionally, clinicians can receive real-time feedback from the device while performing a scan, guiding them in manipulating the probe to capture higher-quality images.

Increased Efficiency, Enhanced Workflow

AI can significantly speed up the ultrasound imaging process. By automating specific tasks, such as measurements and data analysis, AI allows healthcare professionals to focus more on patient care than on time-consuming manual processes. AI goes beyond initial image capture to impact the entire ultrasound process from beginning to end, referencing databases of millions of ultrasound exams to aid caregivers during interpretation.

From identifying abnormalities to calculating key measurements, AI delivers faster medical insights to help inform diagnoses. In the POCUS Survey Report, 63% of caregivers believe AI will streamline interpretation, while 40% expect it to expedite diagnoses and treatments.

Reducing Human Error

AI systems can learn from new data continuously. As these systems gain exposure to more ultrasound cases, they can improve their accuracy, reducing the likelihood of repeat errors over time. This continuous learning enhances the AI's performance and can contribute to the collective knowledge within a medical practice.

Because AI is impartial, it can help mitigate the decades-old challenges of operator dependence and bias. As a result, patients and providers benefit from more accurate, reliable and consistent imaging. AI’s inherent standardization helps reduce variability across various individuals’ image interpretations.

Challenges of Ultrasound AI

Regulatory Compliance

AI-powered POCUS devices typically require collecting large amounts of patient data to train and refine the AI algorithms. This data can include detailed patient records and diagnostic information that may be attractive targets for cybercriminals.

Healthcare providers and AI developers must be diligent about cybersecurity, implementing robust security measures with ongoing maintenance and monitoring to meet federal regulations and ensure patient confidentiality. Exo Iris’ platform is HITRUST, HIPAA, ISO 27001, ISO 27701, GDPR, and SOC2 Type II compliant, demonstrating Exo's commitment to managing risk, improving security posture and meeting compliance requirements for protecting patient data.

Ethical Challenges

Beyond compliance, there are ethical considerations about using AI in medical imaging. The concern is that AI systems trained on non-representative datasets may exhibit biases, which could lead to unfair treatment of certain patient groups.

Patients and providers must understand how AI is used in their diagnostic processes. This transparency includes understanding how AI impacts decision-making. Regularly updating AI systems with new data that reflect changes in populations and disease patterns and continuously monitoring AI performance helps quickly identify and correct bias or inaccuracies.

Exo’s AI applications are trained on over 100,000 of images from point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) exams performed by users in real-world settings. The applications were also validated across various patient populations, health conditions, and diagnostic scan types prior to the FDA clearance process.

User Acceptance

According to the journal article "Drawbacks of Artificial Intelligence and Their Potential Solutions in the Healthcare Sector," healthcare facilities may experience user resistance to AI implementation for several reasons.

Some are concerned about the efficacy of the technology, worrying that people will become disillusioned if AI's capabilities are oversold and it underperforms. The technology's capabilities must be clearly communicated, and user expectations must be managed to ease these apprehensions.

Others fear that AI technology will make their jobs obsolete. Medical professionals are less at risk of losing their jobs to AI than individuals in non-healthcare-related jobs. According to a Forbes article, their "jobs require them to function at an advanced level across many human skills that machines will not replicate any time soon."

Costs

While breakthroughs in healthcare technology continue to make today’s POCUS devices more affordable, the costs of AI-based devices and software can be a deterrent to smaller and mid-size facilities. According to the POCUS Survey Report, budget constraints are one of the top factors inhibiting the broader adoption of handheld POCUS devices.

However, cost savings and increased revenue over time may make the investment worthwhile. High-quality AI-assisted imaging reduces the need for repeat scans, saving additional imaging sessions and associated clinical time costs. By enabling more clinicians to perform advanced diagnostics, healthcare facilities can expand their service offerings. Furthermore, improved diagnostic experiences, shorter wait times, and better outcomes naturally lead to higher patient satisfaction, which is essential for patient retention and attracting new patients through referrals.

Exo Addresses AI’s Challenges to Deliver Exciting Benefits

Exo AI empowers health systems and healthcare professionals anywhere to deliver ultrasound’s many benefits. Exo prioritizes patient privacy and strives to make learning ultrasound and ongoing training easier. We’re holding our AI models to the highest standards of accuracy and transparency, with five FDA-cleared uses and many more possibilities on the horizon.

Learn more about our ultrasound AI possibilities and read our full AI manifesto here. To see Exo’s ultrasound AI in action with Exo Iris™, view a virtual demo or schedule your personal live experience with our team today.