Medical students, radiologists may view AI differently

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Radiologists are less afraid of artificial intelligence (AI) than medical students, who may avoid choosing radiology due to their pessimistic view of the technology's effects, according to the findings of a Swiss survey published online on 9 November in the European Journal of Radiology.

Researchers led by Jasper van Hoek of the University of Bern surveyed radiologists, surgeons, and medical students on a range of topics related to the future of radiology. They found that radiologists tend to be more concerned about turf losses than they are about AI. That wasn't the case for medical students, however.

"Radiologists show a rather positive attitude towards AI to become more efficient and precise, but it does not seem to make them extremely confident about their own future," they noted. "Medical students also advocate the use of AI in radiology but seem to be far more pessimistic regarding [the] danger AI represents to the profession of the diagnostic radiologist. This is also reflected in the fact that a large proportion of students answered that AI is a reason not to choose radiology as a specialty."

AI as a support system

The researchers created an online questionnaire that received responses from 59 radiologists, 56 surgeons, and 55 students. The majority of respondents agreed -- with a median score of 8 on a Likert scale of 0 to 10 -- that AI should be included as a support system in radiology. However, surgeons were less supportive of AI than radiologists, and the difference was statistically significant (p = 0.001).

Notably, the students were more likely (p = 0.041) to view AI as a potential threat to diagnostic radiology.

"Of the students [who] do not intend to specialize in radiology, 26% stated that AI was one of the reasons," van Hoek and colleagues wrote.

These findings conflict with a 2018 study that indicated German medical students are not worried about AI in radiology. Another study in 2018, however, found that Canadian medical students may be avoiding radiology because of fears over AI.

In the current study, the investigators also found that other disciplines perceived turf wars differently than radiologists. Radiologists were much more likely than students (p < 0.0001) to be concerned about turf losses to radiology from other disciplines. The surgeons felt less threatened by interventional radiology techniques than radiologists do about other disciplines.

As far as the future is concerned, the general attitude toward AI as a support system in radiology is rather positive, although there might still be some trust issues regarding responsibility in case of AI mistakes, the group added.

Worrisome findings

Van Hoek and colleagues noted that medical students' fear of the threat of AI may originate from a lack of information and knowledge.

"One must say that the results from our study might be worrisome," they stated. "Students, and especially the best students, might not choose to go into radiology. Thus, better education about this supposed fear seems to be necessary."

The survey results suggest that the radiologists were not extremely confident about their future either, the authors explained, and were uncertain about whether their future will be jeopardized by AI. All participants also estimated there would be fewer diagnostic radiologists and more interventional radiologists in the future.

"This uncertainty indicates that the future of radiology should be discussed more during medical education, but also among radiologists," they wrote.

However, AI could offer a chance to win turf battles.

"In the future, not only radiologists or physicists might use AI," the researchers pointed out. "The use of AI has the potential to combine radiological information in a much more sophisticated way and increase the value of radiological work. The integration of clinical information offers radiologists the opportunity to be on par with clinicians in patient-centered healthcare."

Teleradiology, 3D printing

As for other technologies, all three groups surveyed in the study considered teleradiology to be a positive development in radiology. Teleradiology could benefit radiologists, as it allows them to have more flexible working hours. The authors were somewhat surprised, however, that the surgeons also viewed teleradiology as a benefit.

"We speculate that surgeons might benefit from a radiology service as well, especially in smaller hospitals, when the alternative would be no radiology service at all, or an on-call service that requires radiologists to go to the hospital at night, which could prolong clinical decisions," they wrote.

3D printing was also well received. The technology is considered an important tool for the future of medicine in general, especially by surgeons, according to van Hoek and colleagues.

"With the participants wanting radiology to be in control of 3D printing, this could be a chance for radiology to emerge in this upcoming field, which could utilize the use of AI," they wrote.

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