May 27, 2024

Duke Health partners with Microsoft to develop medical AI tools

Duke Health has partnered with Microsoft to study how to ethically integrate AI tools into health care.

Duke Health has partnered with Microsoft to study how to ethically integrate AI tools into health care.

As part of a new collaboration with Microsoft, Duke Health will start developing ways to apply artificial intelligence to its research and health care operations, the medical system announced Tuesday.

Over the next five years, the health system will take a “stepwise approach” to cautiously integrate this new technology, said Dr. Jeffrey Ferranti, Duke Health’s chief digital officer.

With each new application, Duke researchers will evaluate the technology’s accuracy and whether the algorithms contain harmful biases.

“This is gonna sneak up on us and the world is going to be really different really soon,” Ferranti said. “We’re trying to get ahead of that curve and do it responsibly.”

Ferranti said Duke first plans to use the algorithms to handle administrative tasks, like optimizing clinic schedules or predicting which patients are most likely not to show up for their appointments.

“There’s a lot of inefficiencies in health care that we’re struggling with,” he said. “ I think the experience of health care will become much more personalized, much more convenient as a result of applying these technologies.”

Eventually, the technology may graduate to more complicated tasks, like summarizing new research to make it easier for doctors to keep up with cutting-edge science.

Ferranti said the “final phase” will be when the algorithms are allowed to generate content, like letters to insurance companies.

“You can envision a future where we would have intelligent chat that can answer questions for patients,” he said.

As part of the collaboration with Microsoft, Duke Health will build out the new AI Innovation Lab to research ways to make artificial intelligence trustworthy in medicine. Microsoft and Duke are also both members of the Coalition for Health AI, a group that wants to create a framework for responsible artificial intelligence in medicine.

Other Triangle health care systems have also started using artificial intelligence. UNC Health announced in May that its physicians would use generative AI — similar to Chat GPT — to draft responses to patient questions. In 2020, WakeMed said it would use an AI algorithm to predict which patients were at risk for medical emergencies.

Ferranti said he believes AI will transform everything in the health sector, from the way new doctors are trained to the way institutions provide care. Maybe most significantly, he said, these algorithms will help researchers find trends in troves of health data.

“The cures to many diseases lie in this data,” he said. “Patients will start hearing about new breakthroughs, new treatments, new cures for diseases that weren’t curable at a much faster cadence than ever before.”

Teddy Rosenbluth covers science and health care for The News & Observer in a position funded by Duke Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.

Teddy Rosenbluth covers science for The News & Observer in a position funded by Duke Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press, and the Concord Monitor. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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