Does AI pose a serious threat to the jobs of radiographers?


Dr. Daniel Sodickson, PhD, former president of ISMRM. Photo courtesy of John Madere and NYU Langone Health.

In a visionary talk at the annual meeting of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) in London last week, he said he fully understands people’s concerns about the future of MRI , but he urged his colleagues to think more about how they could proactively influence and shape the new technologies being developed.

“For a while now, it’s been a time like the Wild West, with people going out and illegally creating an algorithm here and running a diagnosis there,” said Sodickson, former ISMRM president and professor of radiology. , neuroscience and physiology. and biomedical engineering at New York University. “I think we are the ones who, as imagers, can say, ‘wait a second, show me the documentation, show me the validation, does this really work for my patients?’ “

Overall, Sodickson gave a “bullish” view of the transformative impact of developments such as artificial intelligence (AI). His views were warmly received, but not without wary notes of skepticism and doubt. Some in the audience countered his optimism, warning that MRI tasks taken over by machines or outsourced remotely to non-radiographers could erode imagers’ livelihoods and job skills.

“I see an alternate future in which there can actually be remarkable growth in the role rather than just a decline,” he said.

Sodickson predicted that radiographers would be in high demand for advanced skills, as healthcare providers and funders would discover they were “just the people we need to understand how we can bring imaging to people in ‘in a way that is useful and not terrifying”.

“Every period of remarkable flow is a period of great threat but also a period of great opportunity,” he said, adding that he could not guarantee that negative scenarios would not materialize.

Parallels with the Industrial Revolution

Sodickson noted that the MRI was at a historically similar time to the era of the Industrial Revolution which “brought us modern life as we know it”, but which also killed countless jobs through mechanization. . However, he said many people ended up getting jobs created by technological change.

“You’re right that if we automate more and more, if we do the same things that we’ve already done, we’ll end up reducing the minimum number of people who can do it,” he said. “But I actually think the output of this scenario is new populations, new types of imagery that generate new volume.”

There was a brighter and more feasible alternate future than the erasure that some foresaw of stand-alone scanners. He cited the general shift in health care delivery away from primarily hospital and episodic care towards “continuous health care” in other settings, such as primary care, pharmacies, workplaces and the patients’ homes.

This could see MRI ‘move from the last bastion of diagnostics to the front line’, when there would still be a need for advanced diagnostics ‘to make sure we don’t miss anything’. “So, in fact, I see the potential volume of tests and scans for radiologists and radiographers will increase if we do this, rather than decrease.”

Trends in MRI

Sodickson described two important current trends.

“One is about lower field, automation, fast workflow, fast – almost industrial imaging. But the other is about new contrasts and advanced systems and so on,” he said. . “You could see a future in which some of the more common images are done in a more automated way.

“But advanced imagery with all these new contrasts and all this kind of more definitive response, is mainstream now and if there’s enough volume then people are upgrading their skills rather than downgrading them.”

Sodickson continued, “I’m not an economist; I can’t predict how these trends will balance out, but I think right now advanced imaging is almost being squeezed out by all the pressure on efficiency, is not it ?

“Well, if the money is coming in different ways, if patients are already being referred with a higher likelihood of disease, and all you need to know is what exactly is the major underlying cellular abnormality here, then you can imagine MRI would be more advanced rather than less,” he said.

Sodickson said high-end contrast will continue to add value and even provide molecular, microscopic and cellular information about disease. “I think AI and new imaging technologies can, if we play our cards right, fill in the gaps in our current model of episodic imaging, connecting imaging sessions over time with memory, providing early warning to patients.”

Radiographers have always been “the key interface between imaging technologies and the people being photographed” and they would be essential to future clinical practice and research. Imaging professionals remain the experts in acquisition, reconstruction, interpretation and careful study, he stressed.

Sodickson was asked who would be next in the field of MRI to win a Nobel Prize. “All I can say is that it better be a woman!” ” he has answered.

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