Heart of the Matter: AI Helps Doctors Navigate Pandemic
A month after it got FDA approval , a startup’s first product was saving lives on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.
Caption Health develops software for ultrasound systems, called Caption AI. It uses deep learning to empower medical professionals, including those without prior ultrasound experience, to perform echocardiograms quickly and accurately.
The results are images of the heart often worthy of an expert sonographer that help doctors diagnose and treat critically ill patients.
The coronavirus pandemic provided plenty of opportunities to try out the first dozen systems. Two doctors who used the new tool shared their stories on the condition that their patients remain anonymous.
In March, a 53-year-old diabetic woman with COVID-19 went into cardiac shock in a New York hospital. Without the images from Caption AI, it would have been difficult to clinch the diagnosis, said a doctor on the scene.
The system helped the physician identify heart problems in an 86-year-old man with the virus in the same hospital, helping doctors bring him back to health. It was another case among more than 200 in the facility that was effectively turned into a COVID-19 hospital this spring.
The Caption Health system made a tremendous impact for a staff spread thin, said the doctor. It would have been hard for a trained sonographer to keep up with the demand for heart exams, he added.
Heart Test Becomes Standard Procedure
Caption AI helped doctors in North Carolina determine that a 62-year-old man had COVID-19-related heart damage. Thanks, in part, to the ease of using the system, the hospital now performs echocardiograms for most patients with the virus.
At the height of the pandemic’s first wave, the hospital stationed ultrasound systems with Caption AI in COVID-19 wards. Rather than sending sonographers from unit to unit, which is the usual practice, staff stationed at the wards used the systems. The change reduced staff exposure to the virus and conserved precious protective gear.
Beyond the pandemic, the system will help hospitals provide urgent services while keeping a lid on rising costs, said a doctor at that hospital.
“AI-enabled machines will be the next big wave in taking care of patients wherever they are,” said Randy Martin, chief medical officer of Caption Health and emeritus professor of cardiology at Emory University, in Atlanta.
Martin joined the startup about four years ago after meeting its founders, who shared expertise and passion for medicine and AI. Today their software “takes a user through 10 standard views of the heart, coaching them through some 90 fine movements experts make,” he said.
“We don’t intend to replace sonographers; we’re just expanding the use of portable ultrasound systems to the periphery for more early detection,” he added.
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