Google's deep-learning on-par with doctors in detecting diabetic retinopathy

news
01 December 2016

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Google detailed an algorithm that could detect when someone had developed blindness as a result of diabetes. It showed that algorithms could, at least in the case of this particular affliction, make a diagnosis with an accuracy on-par with medical professionals.

A key difference between this research and earlier papers on medical imaging by large tech companies was its publication and defence by a respected medical journal like JAMA.

Along with Google's paper, JAMA also published an article translating the finding for medical professionals and urging the community that it was a good thing that algorithms could allow doctors to spend more time with patients, rather than reading scans.

Meanwhile, radiologist Luke Oakden-Rayner who, in a lengthy blog post on 27 November argued how machines could not yet beat doctors, was forced to concede his point after he saw Google's research.

''I remain convinced that we have yet to see a machine outperform a doctor in any task that is relevant to actual medical practice,'' Oakden-Rayner wrote. Sentences later, he continues, ''While I was writing this, literally this last paragraph, it became untrue'' (emphasis his.)

"Google has been working on computer vision for a while, and we use this technology in many of our products. For example, deep-learning in 'Google Photos' enables users to search their image library for things like 'dogs' and 'hugs,'" explained co-author Lily Peng, MD, PhD of Google, to MedPage Today.

"Images are commonly used in health and medicine, and we thought our technology might be able to help in this space," she said. "We started working on diabetic retinopathy [DR] specifically because we saw an opportunity to provide more people with access to care. Blindness caused by DR is preventable if caught early. But today, too few people are diagnosed because they don't have easy access to specialists who can help. In India, for example, there is a shortage of ophthalmologists and optometrists; one study in India found almost half of DR patients already presented with loss of vision."





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