ACR Bulletin

Covering topics relevant to the practice of radiology

Future Proof

How can radiologists go beyond AI buzzwords to advance their careers?
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Rather than man versus machine, the future is man plus machine

—Jeffrey D. Rudie, MD
January 01, 2019

If you think you still have plenty of time to prepare for AI, think again. The future is now, and radiologists need to get in the game or risk winding up on the sidelines.

“Rather than man versus machine, the future is man plus machine,” says Jeffrey D. Rudie, MD, PhD, diagnostic radiology resident at the University of Pennsylvania. “Radiologists are only going to get better and faster with AI, so if you don’t use it in the future, you’re going to be left behind.” Rudie likens AI to the advent of MRI in the 1980s. “Some radiologists never learned to read MRIs. You may be good at what you do, but if you don’t know how to use a new tool or method, your career options may become limited,” he says.

AI is taking the medical world by storm, and the need for medical professionals with an understanding of it is only expected to grow. Thomas A. Kim, MD, MBA, a neuroradiologist at the Carle Physician Group in Urbana, Ill., believes that within the next 10 years, radiologists will be using AI algorithms as a part of their daily workflow. “I don’t think any of us will have a choice in the matter,” he says. “We simply have to learn to work side by side with AI.”

Seizing the Opportunity

According to Sanjay Aneja, MD, now more than ever, radiologists need to gain experience in AI to remain relevant in the face of change. Unfortunately, says Aneja, an assistant professor in the department of therapeutic radiology at Yale School of Medicine’s Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, not many radiologists are seasoned in AI.

In academic institutions, it lets leaders know that you can help expand their cutting-edge research and development programs.

—Sanjay Aneja, MD

“Having that experience on your CV helps you stand out,” Aneja says. “In academic institutions, it lets leaders know that you can help expand their cutting-edge research and development programs. On the clinical side, you can be the one to bring the practice into the future and help it adapt to new systems and adopt emerging best practices.”

So, if applied mathematics, computational programming, and big data aren’t already in your wheelhouse, how do you get that AI experience to bolster your resume? According to Rudie, there are lots of opportunities for both academic and private practice radiologists to become leaders in AI without experience in coding. “For radiologists in a teaching hospital or academic center, find somebody who’s doing image-related research in an area that interests you and volunteer to collaborate by lending your domain expertise in medical images,” suggests Rudie. “You can guide them to develop and customize algorithms that work in a clinical setting.”

Taking the Plunge

To help radiologists navigate the brave new world of AI, Aneja suggests the ACR Data Science Institute™ (DSI)  as a good place to start. According to Aneja, a volunteer on one of the DSI’s subspecialty panels that developed the inaugural release of 50 standardized AI use cases (see sidebar), radiologists from all practice sizes, locations, and settings are involved in every aspect of the DSI’s work.

“The TOUCH-AI use cases are designed so that anyone at any level of training can understand the ways AI can be applicable in a radiology practice,” Aneja says. “The DSI is where clinicians can turn to gain a better understanding of the clinical importance of AI and how to implement it into their daily workflow to improve the quality of patient care.” In addition, Rudie advises private practice radiologists to work with AI vendors and volunteer to test their products. “Take a leadership role in communicating with AI companies,” he says. “Become the point person to help get their algorithm trained and implemented in your hospital system.”

Kim agrees. “As AI products increasingly become available, radiologists will have to field test them to help developers understand how the tools can help us do our work better and more efficiently,” he says. “Product vendors will also need input on how to customize AI products for real-world workflows. Radiologists have an important role to play in ensuring that AI tools coming to market are designed and optimized for us.”

Author Linda Sowers  Freelance Writer, ACR Press