Iowa Company's A.I. Tech Can Diagnose Eye Problems

A company in Coralville, Iowa has made a major breakthrough in artificial intelligence technology with a system that can detect conditions like diabetic retinopathy at a better rate than even a trained physician. This will allow greater access to diabetics that suffer from treatable eye conditions.

Abramoff and IDx staff discuss retina

Silicon Valley tech companies like Google are working on similar technology, but a small company out of Iowa became the first to bring technology of this kind to patient care.

IDx led by Dr. Michael Abramoff explained his company's artificial intelligence technology is capable of catching diabetic retinopathy very early. This is key, because diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms, meaning vision loss may be irreversible by the time the patient starts experiencing symptoms. That’s why it’s so important for people with diabetes to be regularly tested, but right now 50% don’t. 

How IDx-DR Detects Diabetic Retinopathy

The IDx-DR AI system created by Abramoff and his team can make it easier and more accessible for patients to be tested during a routine diabetes wellness visit at their primary care doctor, ensuring diabetic retinopathy is caught early when it's easily treatable. It's sounds a bit odd, but patients won't exactly be interacting with a robot.  

There is no robot to conduct the testing, in fact most patients probably won't realize they are even interactive with article intelligence because the system still uses a person to operate the device. The operator captures retinal images and submits them to the IDx-DR system. Abramoff is hopeful this will roll out anywhere diabetics are undergoing routine checkups. But is it an adequate replacement for a well-trained physician? Because Abramoff is such a physician, is it just as good as him?

The system determines the diagnostic output on its own and does not require a physician to interpret the results. Abramoff explained the IDx-DR can not only detect diabetic retinopathy just like Dr. Abramoff as a retina specialist, but often it's more accurate. This is the first time the FDA has ever cleared an AI system that does not require a physician to look over its shoulder. 

Successfully rolling out AI into healthcare means lower cost and greater access for Americans and U.S. Congress, The White House Office of Science and Technology, and The Federal Trade Commission have sought the expertise of Dr. Abramoff's expertise on the safe implementation of AI in healthcare. 

Despite Boston being a likely location for a MedTech company like IDx, this small company has chosen to remain in Iowa where they may just shape the national conversation on policies that will influence the future of healthcare access.

Listen to our interview with Dr. Michael Abramoff


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