Artificial intelligence is considered particularly promising is in helping doctors make medical diagnoses and already some doctor’s offices in the US are using the technology on an experimental basis, but it is still in beta (not for general use).
Dr. Michael Mansour of Massachusetts General Hospital is an early adopter who’s helping with a form of AI that could someday change the way doctors access information.
Mansour specializes in invasive fungal infections in transplant patients.
“Got a nice picture of mushrooms in my office,” Mansour says with a laugh. “I just really enjoy helping patients through, you know, pretty devastating mold and yeast infections.”
When a patient comes in with a mysterious infection, Mansour turns to a computer program called UpToDate. It’s an incredibly common tool, with more than 2 million users at 44,000 health care organizations in over 190 countries.
Basically, it’s Google for doctors — searching a huge database of articles written by experts in the field, who are all pulling from the latest research.
“Here’s an example,” Mansour says, turning to his computer. “If I meet a patient who is visiting from Hawaii.” The hypothetical patient’s symptoms make Mansour worry about an infection that the patient acquired back home, so he types “Hawaii” and “infection” into UpToDate to pull up a llst of skin conditions that are typically seen in Hawaii.
“And I get things like dengue virus, jellyfish stings, murine typhus, etc.,” he says, scrolling down a long list of responses on his screen. Mansour says he wishes this list could be more specific: “I think gen AI gives you the opportunity to really refine that.”
Mansour has been helping test an experimental version of UpToDate that uses generative AI to help doctors access more targeted information from its database.
Wolters Kluwer Health, the company that makes UpToDate, is trying to incorporate AI so doctors can have more of a conversation with the database.
“If you have a question, it can maintain the context of your question,” says Dr. Peter Bonis, chief medical officer for Wolters Kluwer Health. “And saying, ‘Oh, I meant this,’ or ‘What about that?’ And it knows what you’re talking about and can guide you through, in much the same way that you might ask a master clinician to do that.”
At this point, Wolters Kluwer Health is just sharing the AI-enhanced program in a beta form for testing. Bonis says the company needs to make sure it’s entirely reliable before it can be released.
Bonis has seen the program make errors that people focused on large language model AI programs call hallucinations.
He once saw it cite a journal article in his area of expertise that he wasn’t familiar with. “And I then looked to see if I could find the study in that journal. It didn’t exist,” Bonis says. “So my next query to the large language model was, ‘Did you make this up?’ It said yes.”
Once those kinds of kinks are worked out, AI is being seen across the medical world as having huge potential for helping doctors make diagnoses. It’s already being used as a radiological tool, helping with CT scans and X-rays.
Another program called OpenEvidence, led by scientists at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University, is using AI to read through the latest medical research studies and synthesize the information for users.