Computer vision in healthcare is a field of artificial intelligence that enables computers to interpret and act on visual data. In healthcare, computer vision is used in combination with X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans for analysis of medical imaging and precise disease detection.
In this article, we will walk you through computer vision applications in healthcare, benefits of using computer vision, regulatory aspects, technologies, and the future of computer vision.
- Computer vision in medicine is a booming market growing at 47,6% CAGP.
- Primary users of computer vision technology are healthcare providers and diagnostic centers.
- Proven benefits of computer vision in medicine include improved diagnosis and treatment, enhanced patient experience, and even better resource allocation.
- Computer vision in healthcare applications includes medical imaging, object recognition, detection, and segmentation.
- Computer vision is used in cancer diagnosis and treatment, cardiology, radiology, ophthalmology, orthopedics, and neurology.
- The landscape of regulatory compliance for computer vision is quite complex. Many medical computer vision applications are categorized as SaMD.
- In the future, computer vision will aim at faster disease detection, which will help with better diagnoses and prognoses.
Basics of computer vision in healthcare
Computer vision in the healthcare industry is a very important branch of medical AI. Computer vision can assist in detecting diseases in medical imaging more efficiently and sometimes more accurately than human specialists can. It can also guide surgeons in real-time during complex procedures.
Computer vision is especially valuable for certain medical fields. For example, radiologists often need to parse through hundreds of images in a single scan. Computer vision can flag potential issues and reduce human error.
As of 2023, the computer vision market is estimated at $ 1,5 billion, a significant improvement from just over 1 billion in 2022. The market is growing at a prolific 47, 6% CAGP and is expected to continue growing drastically throughout the next decade (Source ).
The markets for applications of computer vision in the medical field include medical imaging and diagnostics, surgeries, clinical trials, patient management, and research. Primary users of computer vision technology are healthcare providers and diagnostic centers (Source ).
The drivers of computer vision in healthcare are the increasing use of AI technologies among healthcare providers and government initiatives to increase adoption of the AI and ML in healthcare .
The largest market for computer vision technology in healthcare in Europe, while North America is the fastest growing market.
Benefits of using computer vision in the medical field
Computer vision in medicine leads to various benefits, including more accurate diagnoses, earlier disease detection, and better-quality medical procedures. Let's delve into some of these benefits:
Improved diagnosis and treatment
Computer vision in healthcare can identify anomalies in medical images earlier than the doctor. This leads to early disease detection, improving treatment outcomes and reducing the costs of advanced treatments. By analyzing vast datasets, computer vision can also reduce misdiagnosis. A study from Jama confirms that deep learning algorithms are effective at detecting conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, from retinal fundus photographs (Source ).
ROI: Early and accurate diagnosis can significantly reduce the financial burden on healthcare systems. Fewer misdiagnoses mean reduced unnecessary treatments and fewer malpractice claims.
Increased workplace safety
Workplace safety aided by computer vision in healthcare goes beyond diagnosing patients. For example, computer vision can monitor sterile environments to ensure protocol adherence. This reduces the risk of patients getting infections when being treated. Computer vision can prompt immediate cleaning and repair by recognizing when equipment is not properly stored or sanitized.
In one study, it was found that computer vision and depth sensing can analyze healthcare worker-patient contacts to estimate both hand hygiene and personal protective equipment adherence (Source ).
ROI: Reducing hospital-acquired infections or accidents ensures fewer complications, leading to decreased hospital stays and associated costs. Plus, maintaining a safe workplace reduces insurance premiums and potential litigation costs.
Better patient identification
Medical computer vision can match patients with their records or verify their identity before a procedure using facial recognition. This reduces patient mismatching and wrong-patient errors. According to the study, the accuracy of such predictions is 100% (Source ).
ROI: Reducing identity errors means that patients receive the correct treatments and medications.
Automated routine tasks
Tasks like counting cells in a sample, measuring tumor sizes, or even cataloging and storing images can be automated as one of the computer vision applications in healthcare. This reduces human errors and minimizes manual labor.
ROI: Automating tasks reduces personnel hours and associated costs. Additionally, reducing errors in these tasks means fewer repeated tests or procedures.
Enhanced patient experience
Computer vision and medical imaging can produce analysis quickly, leading to shorter wait times for results. What is more, analysis of imaging can lead to more personalized treatment plans tailored to individual patient needs.
ROI: A better patient experience can lead to higher patient retention rates, more referrals, and improved patient outcomes, all of which can have positive financial implications.
Hospitals can optimize resource allocation by analyzing mundane tasks like patient flow, equipment usage, and staff deployment through computer vision in healthcare.
ROI: Efficient resource allocation means reduced waiting times and optimal utilization of assets.
Medical computer vision components & technologies
Medical computer vision relies on the intersection of very complex machine learning and artificial intelligence mechanisms. The fundamental components and technologies that power medical computer vision are:
1. Image acquisition devices: This category of medical vision components includes the devices used to produce scans and medical images, including MRI, CT, X-ray machines, ultrasound, and endoscopes.
2. Image segmentation: Segmentation algorithms partition an image into multiple segments to simplify or change the representation into something more meaningful. Techniques include:
- Thresholding: Separating objects from the background.
- Region growing: Identifying regions based on predefined criteria.
3. Feature Extraction: Identifying key characteristics or patterns within segmented images. Techniques include:
- Texture analysis: Evaluating the texture or grain of regions within the image.
- Morphological operations: Studying structures or shapes within the image.
- Statistical measures: Calculating values such as mean, variance, and others.
4. Classification and detection: After extracting features, algorithms determine what the features represent or if certain conditions or abnormalities are present. Methods involve: Machine learning algorithms such as Support Vector Machines (SVM), Random Forests, or K-Nearest Neighbors (KNN).
5. Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) in computer vision: CNNs are a subset of deep learning algorithms primarily used for image recognition and categorization. The architecture of CNNs is multi-layered and broadly divided into three categories: Convolutional layers, Pooling layers, and Fully connected layers.
- Convolutional layers use convolutional kernels to slide over an input image and identify patterns, producing feature maps.
- Pooling layers compress these feature maps, reducing the computational power needed.
- Fully connected layers generate the final output based on the features detected.
Common convolutional neural network architectures include U-Net for biomedical image processing, Feature Pyramid Network (FPN) that acts as a feature distractor within CNNs, and EfficientNet, a 2019 model created by Google that relies on increasing model depth, width, and input image resolution.
- 3D reconstruction: For visualizing structures in three dimensions, especially valuable in surgery planning.
- Image enhancement: Further improving image clarity or highlighting specific features.
7. Technologies and platforms:
- Frameworks for deep learning: TensorFlow, Keras, PyTorch, and Caffe are popular frameworks for building deep learning models, including those used in medical image analysis.
- DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine): A standard for storing and transmitting medical images.
- PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System): Systems used in healthcare to efficiently store and access patient images and related data.
8. Validation and interpretation: This is crucial in the medical domain. After processing, results must be validated, often in collaboration with medical professionals, to ensure the output is clinically relevant and accurate.
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Applications of computer vision in healthcare
Computer vision in medicine has many applications across different medical fields, including discovering anomalies, tumor detection, and medical imaging. Here are some key applications of computer vision in healthcare:
Medical imaging AI
Medical imaging is the application of computer vision in healthcare that helps detect conditions with medical images, such as X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, or ultrasounds. For example, cancerous tumors can be spotted in MRI scans, lesions in CT scans, and retinal diseases in fundus photographs.
Medical imaging is the first step in the diagnosis and treatment process that spots the presence of the issue.
Object recognition refers to the ability of computer vision in medical imaging to detect abnormalities. Some examples include recognizing cancerous skin moles through computer vision and identifying the presence of tumors and cysts in organs. As of today, AI and ML perform better at identifying melanoma compared to human physicians (Source ).
Object detection goes one step further than object recognition and involves precisely locating the objects within an image. Pinpointing the exact location of lesions or abnormalities within an organ, or detecting orthopedic landmarks useful in procedures like orthopedic or dental surgeries.
Object detection does not only refer to organs and abnormalities within organs. For example, a known case of computer vision in healthcare applications is the detection of catheters and tubes misplaced during medical procedures. This helps minimize potentially dangerous medical errors.
In recent years, the application of computer vision in the medical field has performed incredibly well at detecting coronavirus and its complications, such as pneumonia, via X-rays and CT scans.
Semantic segmentation involves classifying each pixel in an image to fit a specific category. Examples include the segmentation of polyps in colonoscopy, differentiating between healthy and diseased tissue, or detecting particular tumor cells. When detecting a tumor, the MRI scan will highlight all tumor tissues in the same color or label. If there are multiple tumor spots, they will all be highlighted without differentiating between them.
Instance segmentation goes beyond semantic segmentation by classifying every pixel and distinguishing each object from the same category. In computer vision and medical imaging, this could mean identifying and differentiating between individual tumor spots or masses in the MRI scan if multiple tumors are present. This could also mean determining and delineating individual cells, even if they are the same type.
Instance segmentation matters for precise diagnosis. For example, it can play a role in cancer differentiation and staging. AI and ML help localize and segment brain tumors.
Here are the use cases of computer vision in medicine in different segments of healthcare:
- Cancer diagnosis and treatment: By detecting and segmenting tumors, computer vision in healthcare can aid in the early diagnosis of cancers. It can also track tumor progression over time, helping in treatment planning.
- Ophthalmology: AI-enhanced imaging can diagnose diseases like diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and glaucoma by detecting and segmenting affected regions in the retina.
- Neurology: Computer vision in the healthcare industry can analyze brain scans to detect issues such as aneurysms, tumors, or brain areas affected by conditions like Alzheimer's.
- Orthopedics: Computer vision in medical imaging can analyze X-rays or MRIs to detect fractures and degenerative diseases.
- Cardiology: Medical imaging AI can detect and segment blockages or damaged tissues in heart images, helping diagnose coronary artery disease.
Regulatory compliance for medical computer vision applications
Computer vision in the healthcare industry is subjected to legal regulations. However, there is no single umbrella for legal regulations for computer vision projects in healthcare.
Many medical computer vision applications are categorized as SaMD , meaning software intended to be used for medical purposes without being part of a hardware medical device. Regulatory bodies, like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have specific guidelines and requirements for SaMD.
Furthermore, computer vision in medicine is subjected to clinical validation. Regulatory bodies often require extensive clinical trials or studies to validate the performance of the algorithms used in computer vision.
Naturally, computer vision projects in healthcare are subjected to data privacy regulations as well. Patient data, especially medical imaging data, is highly sensitive. Any application that deals with patient data should comply with data protection regulations. In the USA, the standard for patient data that computer vision and medical imaging are subjected to is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
Computer vision projects in healthcare also fall under ISO 13485, a standard that regulates the medical devices' product development process.
Another significant factor in the legal regulation of computer vision is interoperability. Medical computer vision applications might need to integrate with medical systems like PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication Systems) or EHR (Electronic Health Records) .
What is more, interoperability standards, like DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine), are used to ensure that different devices and software can communicate and exchange information effectively.
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The future of computer vision in healthcare
The future of computer vision in healthcare is vast and promising. As technology progresses and more data becomes available, the potential applications and benefits continue to grow. New developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence drive medical computer vision forward.
Here's a glimpse into what the future may hold:
- Faster image recognition made possible by advancements in chipsets.
- More detailed medical computer vision because of evolving deep learning algorithms and a better quality of datasets.
- Faster and less complex data processing with fewer steps taken to achieve results.
- Computer vision in healthcare applications will be more focused on personalized treatments. Computer vision will be used to a bigger extent to monitor treatment progress and adjust it in real time.
Computer vision in medicine is an AI model with unprecedented capabilities when it comes to diagnostic imaging and abnormality detection. Out of all modern medical technologies, it has the biggest potential in terms of reducing human errors and giving a timely, correct diagnosis.
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