GE and its healthcare partners want to bring AI to patient care

John Flannery

GE Healthcare and the corporate parent of two of Harvard University's teaching hospitals will spend the next ten years working on ways to bring artificial intelligence (AI) to every aspect of a hospital visit, the companies announced today.

The Center for Clinical Data Science will include teams from both companies and will develop, test and deploy AI software at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Boston Globe reported.

GE, which moved its corporate headquarters to Boston last year, is working to transform itself from an industrial company to one that develops software that powers equipment from MRI machines to jet engines, among other innovations, the article noted.

AI — sometimes called deep learning technology — refers to computers that can sift through vast amounts of data and learn to become more accurate and efficient over time. Executives from GE, one of the nation’s largest corporations, and Partners Healthcare (which owns MGH and Brigham and Women's Hospital), said integrating the technology into healthcare could help patients receive better care.

“This is about creating digital tools that will have a profound impact on medicine, said John Flannery, chief executive of GE Healthcare. “By leveraging AI across every patient interaction, workflow challenge and administrative need, this collaboration will drive improvements in quality, cost and access.”

The new technologies could reduce unnecessary procedures, such as some biopsies, and automate tedious medical image review, the companies said.

“We’ve committed within our organizations to have a center that’s going to endure and the relationship with GE is intentionally 10 years,” Dr. Keith Dreyer, chief data science officer at MGH and BWH. “This is going to take a while to do. People ask me how long this is going to take to happen? And I say how long is it going to take for the Internet to happen?”

Dreyer says that the field of using AI in medicine has gone from hundreds of scientific publications to thousands over the past three years, according to Forbes. He contrasts the effort to create an AI that would serve, essentially, as a virtual physician to a more realistic approach that is piecemeal, dealing with one opportunity at a time, according to an additional report in Forbes.

Flannery, the GE Healthcare CEO, is eager to move fast. According to the Boston Globe, he said commercialization of cloud-based radiology applications could occur in one to three years.

“There will be an iTunes-like app store of programs offered to the physicians,” Flannery said.

Other companies would then use the infrastructure and data created by GE and its partners to create their own programs, all of which will run on a single application.

"If there were 20 technologies with these solutions, I can’t buy 20 solutions. I need a single platform," Dreyer added.

The first use of the technology will focus on medical images from x-rays, MRIs and other scans, which would help determine the impact of a stroke, quickly identify emergency room patients with fractures and help track how tumors respond to new cancer treatments.

“Clinicians are inundated with data, and the patient experience suffers from inefficiencies in the healthcare industry,” said David Torchiana, chief executive of Partners Healthcare. “Together, we can empower clinicians with the tools needed to store, analyze and leverage the flood of information to more effectively deliver care to patients.”

“This is about creating digital tools that will have a profound impact on medicine,” Flannery added in a statement. “This collaboration will drive improvements in quality, cost and access.”

Torchiana said healthcare workers are inundated with data, but improved technology can help them make better use of it.

“By combining the expertise at Mass General and Brigham and Women’s with the spirit of innovation at GE…we can empower clinicians with the tools needed to store, analyze and leverage the flood of information to more effectively deliver care to patients,” he said.

Get the Newsletter

Keep up to date with the latest news and insights.

Subscribe

Laurie Fullerton

Laurie Fullerton is a writer based in Boston, MA with a background in business, sports, community, medical and travel writing. She has been a newspaper editor in the Boston-area, a sports writer covering yacht racing and a community reporter. She has been reporting for The Drum since October 2015.

All by Laurie