Google plans to use AI to halve the maternal mortality rate

Google introduced on Thursday three new well being tasks aimed toward showcasing its synthetic intelligence prowess. The most bullish amongst them: a partnership with Northwestern Memorial Hospital to make use of synthetic intelligence to make ultrasounds extra accessible—a improvement Google claims would halve the maternal mortality charge.

All three of Google’s new tasks spotlight how the corporate’s energy, organizing data, can play a job in well being care. In the case of maternal mortality, meaning making a software program that may document scans from an ultrasound wand because it glides over a pregnant girl’s abdomen, after which analyze these pictures for potential fetal abnormalities or different indicators that one thing is unsuitable.

Globally, the maternal mortality charge is 152 deaths per 100,000 births, based on the Gates Foundation, and a 2016 National Vital Statistics report discovered that 15% of ladies within the U.S. who gave start obtained insufficient prenatal care. The WHO recommends girls have a minimum of an ultrasound earlier than 24 weeks gestation. Ultrasound imaging requires pretty excessive degree of experience and requires a technician or nurse to make an preliminary evaluation, earlier than handing it off to a health care provider. Google is suggesting that its know-how might present the technical experience as a substitute.

“The idea is that we think we can actually help a relatively untrained operator get some of the basics,” says Greg Corrado, senior analysis director at Google. Through Northwestern, its synthetic intelligence will evaluate ultrasounds for five,000 sufferers.  (Google didn’t specify a timeline for the three tasks.)

Its different two initiatives heart on creating software program that flip cellphones into well being instruments. The first, an extension of Google’s previous work utilizing synthetic intelligence to detect diabetic retinopathy from specialty retinal scans, makes use of a cellphone digital camera to take an image of an individual’s eye from which it might probably detect indicators of diabetic retinopathy. The third undertaking revolves round software program that may flip a smartphone right into a stethoscope.

All of those concepts search to place Google on the forefront of each synthetic intelligence in healthcare and the way forward for well being at house. Whether these innovations will actually ship on that promise is up for debate. (In basic, researchers have solely not too long ago began to deliver synthetic intelligence to healthcare.)

Google’s well being ambitions have been ill-defined because the departure of former head of well being David Feinberg and the dissolution of its unified well being division. Under Feinberg, Google made an enormous push to make digital well being data simply searchable (manifested in a product known as Care Studio).  Now, well being tasks are distributed all through the group and overseen by Karen DeSalvo, Google’s Chief Health Officer and former Assistant Secretary of Health underneath the Obama administration (she additionally beforehand served as New Orlean’s well being commissioner and helped rebuild town’s major care clinics). Since she’s taken the well being helm at Google, tasks have taken on a extra world public well being focus.

Healthcare is a crucial piece of Google’s forward-looking enterprise technique. In 2021, it invested $1.1 billion into 15 healthcare AI startups, based on the CBInsight’s report Analyzing Google’s healthcare AI technique. It additionally has been forging forward into healthcare techniques, notably signing a deal with world digital well being document firm MEDITECH. Google can also be competing with AWS and Microsoft to offer cloud companies to healthcare suppliers, by way of which it might probably promote them further companies. These well being tasks are a method for Google to indicate corporations within the $4 trillion healthcare market what it might probably actually do for them.

In the title of public well being

Google has launched a number of public well being tasks in recent times. It teamed up with Apple to launch a digital COVID-19 publicity notification. Last yr, it debuted synthetic intelligence dermatology device for assessing pores and skin, nail, and hair situations. It additionally added a device to Google Pixel that may detect coronary heart charge and respiratory charge by way of the smartphone’s digital camera. Its effort to display for diabetic retinopathy is by far its most sturdy undertaking. In 2016, Google introduced it was working to develop algorithms to detect early indicators of diabetic retinopathy, which ends up in blindness.

The greater query is: how helpful is any of these items? A 2020 research, following the diabetic retinopathy device’s use in Thailand, discovered that it was correct when it made an evaluation, rushing up analysis and therapy. However, as a result of the picture scans weren’t at all times prime quality, Google’s AI didn’t ship outcomes for 21% of pictures—a major hole for sufferers. The know-how is predominately deployed in India and is getting used to display 350 sufferers per day with 100,000 sufferers screened so far, the corporate says.

Corrado says there’ll at all times been some decrement in efficiency in taking know-how from a lab setting to an actual world setting. “Sometimes it’s so much that it’s not worth it,” he says. “I’m proud we go out into the world and see what is it like in those conditions and when we see there is a performance gap, we work with partners to close that performance gap. I assume there’s going to be a trade off between accessibility and error.”

But it’s observe up device, which makes use of a smartphone digital camera to take an image of the surface of the attention in an effort to display for diabetic retinopathy should have too many commerce offs. A validation research, which used present table-top cameras relatively than a smartphone to gather pictures, discovered that the know-how might detect a couple of completely different indications of whether or not somebody might already be displaying indicators of diabetic retinopathy, together with if their hemoglobin A1c degree is 9% or extra. The thought is that this tech might assist prioritize sure sufferers for in-person care.

Doctor’s notes

Ishani Ganguli, assistant professor of medication at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts, says that these applied sciences might positively be doubtlessly helpful. “It could be helpful to capture heart rate and respiratory rate for a virtual visit, for example, or for a patient with a certain condition to track (I wouldn’t recommend healthy people track these routinely),” she writes through electronic mail. “Diagnosing diabetes retinopathy by photos would be very helpful as well (easier and potentially cheaper than an ophthalmology visit).” However, she says, these approaches aren’t significantly novel.

Andrew Ibrahim, a surgeon and co-Director on the University of Michigan’s Center for Healthcare Outcomes & Policy, has a much less rosy evaluation. Couldn’t he simply ask sufferers a couple of extra questions on their signs in an effort to get to the identical data?  What he’s additionally getting at here’s a matter of workflow. It’s not clear precisely the place a smartphone digital camera suits into how a health care provider makes well being selections. For this smartphone well being device to successfully triage sufferers and floor those that want care first would require medical doctors to vary how they do what they do. That half is probably not real looking, although Google is working with companions, like Northwestern Memorial Hospital, to check that feasibility.

Regardless, these tasks, that are then revealed in research and might be submitted for peer evaluate, serve to validate Google as an actual contender in healthcare. And that’s what this work is finally about.

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