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This article appears in the October 2021 issue of the

PE GI Journal

Kelly McCormick
November 11, 2021

How the presence of artificial intelligence is changing GI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the landscape in nearly every specialty, including gastroenterology. AI has improved early detection of cancer and other diseases. It does so by speeding up review and analysis of mammograms and other scans, for example.

AI, which is defined by Oxford Languages as “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence,” has been around for decades. Professor John McCarthy first introduced the concept in 1956. In the years since, AI has evolved into an extremely powerful technology, especially in healthcare. Artificial intelligence will likely have a significant effect among gastroenterologists.

What is AI currently doing for healthcare?

AI provides unmatched benefits when it comes to supporting physicians and patients in nearly every aspect of healthcare. This is particularly true when it comes to developing medicine: It costs about $2.6 billion to develop a single drug, and 9 out of 10 candidate treatments never make it to regulatory approval, according to AI is making the search for medicines faster and cheaper. Pfizer has been using the new machine learning system IBM Watson to aid their development of immune-oncology drugs. This reduces wasted time and money between the development and approval phases.

AI is also improving patient experience. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Medical Practice Management revealed that 96% of patient complaints related to lack of customer service, paperwork mistakes, and poor front-desk experiences. AI can help automate many administrative tasks to improve efficiency and accuracy behind the scenes. Therefore, this improves customer experience at the front desk and beyond. AI can also help physicians provide a more personalized treatment experience, as evidenced by the Cleveland Clinic’s partnership with Watson. It also aids in clinical judgment and diagnosis. It uses algorithms as a preventative measure, something that is quickly growing within the GI sector.

What AI currently exists in GI?

AI is already proving itself invaluable in cancer screening by improving detection and diagnosis, particularly in early stages of cancer. As many as 6% of esophageal cancers are missed on endoscopy, for example, often due to less-experienced endoscopists and smaller lesions. Using AI can improve esophageal cancer screenings by using technology to detect smaller lesions. It also overcomes variability and learning curve issues between endoscopists.

With almost 1 million cases each year, gastric adenocarcinoma is the third leading cause of cancer mortality globally, according to research published in the Chinese Medical Journal. Colorectal cancers are the second most commonly diagnosed cancers and the second most deadly. The techniques currently used for screening and examinations for these types of cancers are time consuming and meticulous. Inter-operator variability can also be significant. Automated detection systems of EGD-related mucosal abnormalities can overcome some of these diagnostic obstacles to improve cancer detection and diagnosis. Dedicated AI systems can also help clinicians determine the best treatment strategy. It does so by predicting cancer stage and can even offer therapeutic assistance. This results in fewer missed EGD diagnoses and better therapeutic outcomes.

What healthcare advancements are currently being made in Artificial Intelligence in the GI sector?

The use and development of AI is growing at a rapid pace in almost every industry and medical specialty, and its use within GI is no different. In April 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the marketing of the first AI device to aid in the detection of colon cancer in real time. Known as GI Genius, the device includes hardware and software that use AI algorithms to identify regions of interest that may need further assessment. The approach has resulted in a 13% increase in the number of lab-identified adenomas or carcinomas, which signifies a huge advancement for GI.

In March 2021, software companies Iterative Scopes and Provation partnered to link documentation software with existing data and insights. Becker’s Healthcare says the partnership will provide AI solutions for healthcare providers and researchers. It will initially focus on patients with irritable bowel disease (IBD). If all goes as planned, the AI solution will increase efficiency and accuracy within GI and improve patient outcomes.

AI faces many barriers to adoption, such as fear of AI, choosing the right algorithms, and finding personnel knowledgeable in the use of AI. One of the most prominent barriers for AI’s entrance into the world of GI, however, is that the sluggish regulatory process is often greatly outpaced by the blistering speed of technology development. Fortunately, the FDA is speeding up the regulation process to keep up with the growth of AI.

What does all of this mean for GI physicians and patients?

The increase in availability of AI within the GI sector will have a monumental impact. This will be both patients’ lives and physicians’ ability to improve their patients’ lives. AI can help compensate for physician errors due to inexperience, fatigue, stress, or lack of attention. It can also help improve the accuracy of test results, diagnoses, and treatment outcomes for patients.

While physicians should not become too heavily reliant on AI, the current technology has the ability to match and sometimes surpass human skill level when it comes to the detection and diagnosis of certain diseases. Studies suggest that AI will likely exceed human skills as the technology continues to develop.

AI can also help reduce the cost of GI healthcare. This is because it will increase the number of procedures and tests performed each day. For example, the average colonoscopy in the U.S. can cost upwards of $5,500, according to Health IT Outcomes. AI can speed up the process of colonoscopies, thereby reducing patient costs and making GI healthcare more affordable overall.

While AI is making an impact on the GI industry right now, it has the potential to augment and improve patient care in big ways. Understanding the technology and what it can offer is vital to providing the highest level of care for your patients now and in the future.