How Northwestern's heart team embraces AI, machine learning

Patrick McCarthy, MD, executive director of Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute and chief of cardiac surgery at Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine, shared how the system is incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning into cardiology care during a recent episode of the Becker's Healthcare cardiology podcast.

Here is an excerpt from the podcast. Click here to download the full episode.

Editor's note: This response was lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What role do AI and machine learning play in the evolution of cardiac care?

Dr. Patrick McCarthy: A few years ago we started to embrace artificial intelligence. We were seeing companies presenting products to us that were actually using AI for imaging. Imagine a stethoscope where instead of just the physician's ears, it's interpreting the sounds and telling you if there's a heart murmur, for instance. And then of course there's using artificial intelligence to scan electronic medical records. So it seemed like it was really getting more here and now, and it wasn't just something in the future. With a gift from Neil Bluhm, we formed the first Center for Artificial Intelligence and Cardiovascular Disease. And we actually just started a fellowship so that some of our cardiology trainees spend a year with computer science up at Northwestern University [in Evanston, Ill.] They learn about AI, natural language processing and machine learning, and then they use it to do applications. 

This whole process is just rapidly evolving, and it's really interesting where it has taken us. For instance, one of our trainees used AI to train chest X-rays to read COVID. It turns out that it was just as good as expert readers of chest CT scans. And so it was published, and then we posted it so that whether you're in Peoria or North Dakota or anywhere, you should be able to use that algorithm to help determine if a patient has COVID. 

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