Artificial Intelligence has been called the “stethoscope of the 21st Century.” AI is becoming an increasingly common, and increasingly accurate, diagnostic tool for physicians in the U.S. and around the globe. In fact, numerous studies have shown that AI technology can be more effective than doctors or radiologists at quickly and correctly identifying cancer and other chronic conditions.
Given AI’s benefits and the importance of an accurate diagnosis, should the failure to use these tools in evaluating a patient’s condition be akin to failing to take x-rays, MRIs, or other appropriate tests to determine the correct diagnosis? That is, can the failure to use AI constitute medical malpractice if a patient ultimately suffers as a result of a misdiagnosis?
AI’s Role in Diagnostic Medicine
Few medical errors are as common as missed or incorrect diagnoses. That is because the body is a complicated, intricate and interconnected machine in which a multitude of things can go wrong.
Figuring out exactly what is wrong requires the collection and analysis of a lot of data. AI is particularly suited to diagnostic medicine because, as University of Michigan law professor W. Nicholson Price put it, AI uses “the combination of large-scale high-quality datasets with sophisticated predictive algorithms to identify and use implicit, complex connections between multiple patient characteristics.” In English, this means that AI can process a lot of data more quickly, more broadly, and more effectively than a human radiologist or doctor.
Many studies have borne this out. As recently reported on the technology website Futurism:
- Researchers at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England, developed an AI diagnostics system that’s more accurate than doctors at diagnosing heart disease at least 80 percent of the time.
- Harvard University researchers created an AI-assisted “smart” microscope that can detect potentially lethal blood infections and identify the responsible bacteria with a 95 percent accuracy rate.
- Japanese researchers reported that a new computer-aided endoscopic system can reveal signs of potentially cancerous growths in the colon with 94 percent sensitivity, 79 percent specificity, and 86 percent accuracy.
- A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in December 2017 found that “deep learning” algorithms were able better diagnose metastatic breast cancer than human radiologists were when under time pressure, such as in an emergency room.
Is It a Breach of the Standard of Care Not to Use AI Diagnostic Tools?
In medical malpractice cases, liability is based on the failure of a physician or other health care professional to follow the accepted standard of care when treating a patient. The law defines this standard of care as the level and type of medical care that a reasonably competent and skilled health care professional with a similar background would have provided under same or similar circumstances. In the context of diagnoses, common examples of breaching the standard of care include poor testing procedures, incorrectly interpreting test results, or failing to order appropriate tests altogether.
But the accepted standard of care is not a static concept. It evolves with advances in science, technology, and medicine. What was the appropriate standard of care for physicians making diagnoses in 1918 would certainly not be the same as the standard of care in 2018.
As the use of AI in diagnostic and other aspects of medicine is a relatively recent development, it remains to be seen whether the failure to use such tools when evaluating patients falls below the standard of care. Certainly, as the technology continues to advance and becomes more ubiquitous, not engaging artificial intelligence to make diagnoses may become as patently negligent as the failure to use a stethoscope or x-ray is today.
Consult an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney
When patients and their families suffer because health care professionals breach the standard of care when making diagnoses, the medical malpractice attorneys at Sommers Schwartz stand ready to hold them accountable.
We work closely with our clients to obtain compensation for injuries and losses caused by all forms of medical negligence. Our seasoned team of lawyers, legal assistants, nurses, and experts can investigate your claim and determine the best course of action to obtain the best possible outcome. Please contact us for a free consultation to review your case.