Artificial intelligence

Google Collaborates With Bayer To Create a New AI Tool for Radiologists

In an effort to speed up patient diagnosis and case processing for radiologists, Google Cloud and German healthcare giant Bayer revealed on Tuesday that they are developing an AI-powered platform. 

TakeAway Points:

  • Google Cloud and Bayer are developing a new AI-powered platform aimed at improving radiologists’ productivity.
  • The AI on the platform can both retrieve and compile pertinent data from a patient’s medical history and highlight issues in images for radiologists to review.
  • Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, states that the radiologist still has “total control” over the suggestions they make.

Radiologists’ New Tool

According to Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, the platform’s generative AI can identify abnormalities in images for radiologists to examine and can also retrieve pertinent data from the patient’s medical history. For instance, the platform may identify present issues, compare the image to previous screenings, and summarise the information if a patient comes in for an annual breast cancer test. 

Health-care companies like Bayer will be able to use the platform to develop radiology-specific applications that carry out functions like these more easily, Google said.

A radiologist is a doctor who uses medical images like CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays to identify and treat conditions. But like physicians across many specialties in the U.S., radiologists are facing a growing labor shortage, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. As of early April, there are more than 1,800 vacant job postings on the American College of Radiology’s website, compared to around 220 listings in April 2014.

Many radiologists are also fighting burnout as an ageing population, and easier access to imaging technologies have led to mounting caseloads. Google Cloud said its new platform could help alleviate these ongoing workforce challenges.

“That whole process flow is designed to help radiologists get through their task with assistance more quickly,” Kurian said in an interview. “It makes them more efficient, so they can actually see more images and service more patients.” 

Kurian said the platform does not replace radiologists, as the doctor still maintains “sole control” of the recommendation they will make. Instead, he wants people to look at the platform as an assistive tool, like a microscope. The goal is to easily give radiologists the information they need and save them from spending 15 or 20 minutes searching through patient records, Kurian said. 

AI Applications in the Medical Sector

Google Cloud and Bayer are not the only companies exploring AI applications for medical imaging. In 2021, the Netherlands-based health-care company Philips and Amazon Web Services said they were working to use AI to analyze medical imaging data. Similarly, GE HealthCare published a blog post in 2022 about the various AI tools it has developed for radiology. 

Keith Kirkpatrick, research director at The Futurum Group, said there’s not one clear leader in the medical imaging AI market yet since the technology is still so new. 

“It’s really wide open. We’re still fairly early in the game right now.” Kirkpatrick told CNBC.

Kirkpatrick, who was briefed on Tuesday’s announcement, said Google Cloud and Bayer’s radiology platform will have to demonstrate high levels of technical accuracy, offer strong privacy and security controls, and be easy to use in order to win in the space. Establishing trust with radiologists will be the key, he added.   

“Google is going to have to make sure that their technology is as close to foolproof as possible,” Kirkpatrick said.  

Google Cloud has been working with Bayer on the radiology platform for around five years. The foundation was built using existing Google Cloud solutions like Vertex AI, Healthcare API, and BigQuery, and Kurian said the platform’s data is encrypted. 

The companies drew on Bayer’s expertise in radiology to make sure that the product was easy for the doctors to use. Bayer said its radiology products generated around €2 billion (US$2.16 billion) in sales last year, according to a release. 

Even so, the platform represents a foray into an entirely new business model for Bayer, according to Guido Mathews, Bayer’s vice president of radiology.

“We don’t offer a new pill; we offer a service for which we will charge users accordingly. To help develop models and also to help deploy models for radiology, that’s a big step forward for us.” Mathews told CNBC in an interview.

Google Cloud and Bayer are exploring a number of different pricing models for the platform, he said. Other health-care organizations will begin testing and providing feedback on the platform this year. 

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