The study was partially retrospective in that the
researchers compiled past alerts generated by the CDS systems at BWH and MGH
between 2009-2011 and added them to alerts generated during the active part of
the study, which took place from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2013, for a
total of five years’ worth of CDS alerts.
They then sent the same patient-encounter data that generated those CDS alerts to a machine learning platform called MedAware, an AI-enabled software system developed in Ra’anana, Israel.
MedAware was created for the “identification and prevention
of prescription errors and adverse drug effects,” notes the study, which goes
on to state, “This system identifies medication issues based on machine
learning using a set of algorithms with different complexity levels, ranging
from statistical analysis to deep learning with neural networks. Different
algorithms are used for different types of medication errors. The data elements
used by the algorithms include demographics, encounters, lab test results,
vital signs, medications, diagnosis, and procedures.”
The researchers then compared the alerts produced by
MedAware to the existing CDS alerts from that 5-year period. The results were
According to the study:
“68.2% of the alerts generated were unique to
the MedAware system and not generated by the institutions’ CDS alerting system.
“Clinical outlier alerts were the type least
likely to be generated by the institutions’ CDS—99.2% of these alerts were
unique to the MedAware system.
“The largest overlap was with dosage alerts,
with only 10.6% unique to the MedAware system.
“68% of the time-dependent alerts were unique to
the MedAware system.”
Perhaps even more important was the results of the cost
analysis, which found:
“The average cost of an adverse event
potentially prevented by an alert was $60.67 (range: $5.95–$115.40).
“The average adverse event cost per type of
alert varied from $14.58 (range: $2.99–$26.18) for dosage outliers to $19.14
(range: $1.86–$36.41) for clinical outliers and $66.47 (range: $6.47–$126.47)
for time-dependent alerts.”
The researchers concluded that, “Potential savings of $60.67 per alert was mainly derived from the prevention of ADEs [adverse drug events]. The prevention of ADEs could result in savings of $60.63 per alert, representing 99.93% of the total potential savings. Potential savings related to averted calls between pharmacists and clinicians could save an average of $0.047 per alert, representing 0.08% of the total potential savings.
“Extrapolating the results of the analysis to the 747,985
BWH and MGH patients who had at least one outpatient encounter during the
two-year study period from 2012 to 2013, the alerts that would have been fired
over five years of their clinical care by the machine learning medication
errors identification system could have resulted in potential savings of
Savings of more than one million dollars plus the prevention
of potential patient harm or deaths caused by thousands of adverse drug events
is a strong argument for machine learning platforms in diagnostics and
prescription drug monitoring.
Researchers Say Current Clinical Decision Support Systems
Machine learning is not the same as artificial intelligence. ML is a “discipline of AI” which aims for “enhancing accuracy,” while AI’s objective is “increasing probability of success,” explained Tech Differences.
Healthcare needs the help. Prescription medication errors cause patient harm or deaths that cost more than $20 billion annually, states a Joint Commission news release.
CDS alerting systems are widely used to improve patient
safety and quality of care. However, the BWH-MGH researchers say the current
CDS systems “have a variety of limitations.” According to the study:
“One limitation is that current CDS systems are rule-based and can thus identify only the medication errors that have been previously identified and programmed into their alerting logic.
“Further, most have high alerting rates with many false positives, resulting in alert fatigue.”
Commenting on the value of adding machine learning
medication alerts software to existing CDS hospital systems, the BWH-MGH
researchers wrote, “This kind of approach can complement traditional rule-based
decision support, because it is likely to find additional errors that would not
be identified by usual rule-based approaches.”
However, they concluded, “The true value of such alerts is
highly contingent on whether and how clinicians respond to such alerts and
their potential to prevent actual patient harm.”
Future research based on real-time data is needed before machine
learning systems will be ready for use in clinical settings, HealthITAnalytics
However, medical laboratory leaders and pathologists will
want to keep an eye on developments in machine learning and artificial
intelligence that help physicians reduce medication errors and adverse drug
events. Implementation of AI-ML systems in healthcare will certainly affect
clinical laboratory workflows.
Clinical laboratories working with AI should be aware of ethical challenges being pointed out by industry experts and legal authorities
Experts are voicing concerns that using artificial
intelligence (AI) in healthcare could present ethical challenges that need
to be addressed. They say databases and algorithms may introduce bias into the
diagnostic process, and that AI may not perform as intended, posing a potential
for patient harm.
If true, the issues raised by these experts would have major
implications for how clinical
laboratories and anatomic
pathology groups might use artificial intelligence. For that reason,
medical laboratory executives and pathologists should be aware of possible
drawbacks to the use of AI and machine-learning
algorithms in the diagnostic process.
For example, Accenture
(NYSE:ACN) says that hospitals will spend $6.6 billion on AI by 2021. This
represents an annual growth rate of 40%, according
to a report from the Dublin, Ireland-based consulting firm, which states,
“when combined, key clinical health AI applications can potentially create $150
billion in annual savings for the United States healthcare economy by 2026.”
But are healthcare providers too quick to adopt AI?
Accenture defines AI as a “constellation of technologies
from machine learning to natural
language processing that allows machines to sense, comprehend, act, and
learn.” However, some experts say AI is not performing as intended, and that it
introduces biases in healthcare worthy of investigation.
What Goes in Limits What Comes Out
Could machine learning lead to machine decision-making that
puts patients at risk? Some legal authorities say yes. Especially when computer
algorithms are based on limited data sources and questionable methods, lawyers
How can AI provide accurate medical insights for people when
the information going into databases is limited in the first place? Ossorio
pointed to lack of diversity in genomic
data. “There are still large groups of people for whom we have almost no
genomic data. This is another way in which the datasets that you might use to
train your algorithms are going to exclude certain groups of people
altogether,” she told HDM.
She also sounded the alarm about making decisions about
women’s health when data driving them are based on studies where women have
been “under-treated compared with men.”
“This leads to poor treatment, and that’s going to be
reflected in essentially all healthcare data that people are using when they
train their algorithms,” Ossorio said during a Machine Learning for Healthcare (MLHC) conference
covered by HDM.
The paper’s authors wrote, “Physician-researchers are
predicting that familiarity with machine-learning tools for analyzing big data
will be a fundamental requirement for the next generation of physicians and
that algorithms might soon rival or replace physicians in fields that involve
close scrutiny of images, such as radiology and anatomical pathology.”
In a news
release, Magnus said, “You can easily imagine that the algorithms being
built into the healthcare system might be reflective of different, conflicting
interests. What if the algorithm is designed around the goal of making money?
What if different treatment decisions about patients are made depending on
insurance status or their ability to pay?”
In addition to the possibility of algorithm bias, the
authors of the NEJM paper have other concerns about AI affecting
“Physicians must adequately understand how
algorithms are created, critically assess the source of the data used to create
the statistical models designed to predict outcomes, understand how the models
function and guard against becoming overly dependent on them.
“Data gathered about patient health, diagnostics,
and outcomes become part of the ‘collective knowledge’ of published literature
and information collected by healthcare systems and might be used without
regard for clinical experience and the human aspect of patient care.
“Machine-learning-based clinical guidance may
introduce a third-party ‘actor’ into the physician-patient relationship, challenging
the dynamics of responsibility in the relationship and the expectation of
Acknowledge Healthcare’s Differences
Still, the Stanford researchers acknowledge that AI can
benefit patients. And that healthcare leaders can learn from other industries,
such as car companies, which have test driven AI.
“Artificial intelligence will be pervasive in healthcare in a
few years,” said
Nigam Shah, PhD, co-author of the NEJM paper and Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford, in the news release. He added that healthcare leaders need to be aware of the “pitfalls” that have happened in other industries and be cognizant of data.
“Be careful about knowing the data from which you learn,” he
AI’s ultimate role in healthcare diagnostics is not yet fully
known. Nevertheless, it behooves clinical laboratory leaders and anatomic
pathologists who are considering using AI to address issues of quality and
accuracy of the lab data they are generating. And to be aware of potential
biases in the data collection process.
That’s according to Debra Harrsch, President-elect of the Diagnostics Marketing Association (DxMA), a self-funded organization devoted to helping diagnostic marketing professionals stay abreast of industry trends and effectively navigate the changing legal, regulatory, and technology landscape.
Latest calls for easier public access to information on physician performance and quality is a reminder to clinical laboratories and pathology groups of the trend to greater transparency on provider outcomes
If any clinical laboratory executive or pathologist still doubts that more transparency of provider outcomes is a topic of interest to patients, they have only to look at Consumer Reports, well-respected for its advocacy on behalf of consumers. Consumer Reports is using multiple ways to educate their readers about medical errors and how the medical community makes it difficult for consumers to learn about physicians who have been involved in state medical board investigations.
In response, the embattled lab company in Palo Alto, Calif., has maintained that it is doing everything it can to correct any deficiencies in its clinical laboratory testing methods and to ensure its partners that its processes are scientifically sound and its methods valid. (more…)