Interventional radiologists at UCLA are using technology found in self-driving cars to power a machine learning application that helps guide patients’ interventional radiology care, according to research presented March 8 at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 2017 Annual Scientific Meeting.

The researchers used cutting-edge artificial intelligence to create a “chatbot” interventional radiologist that can automatically communicate with referring clinicians and quickly provide evidence-based answers to frequently asked questions. This allows the referring physician to provide real-time information to the patient about the next phase of treatment, or basic information about an interventional radiology treatment.

“We theorized that artificial intelligence could be used in a low-cost, automated way in interventional radiology as a way to improve patient care,” said Edward W. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and one of the authors of the study. “Because artificial intelligence has already begun transforming many industries, it has great potential to also transform health care.”

Deep learning was used to understand a wide range of clinical questions and respond in a conversational manner. It is a technology inspired by the workings of the human brain, where networks of artificial neurons analyze large datasets to automatically discover patterns and “learn” without human intervention. The researchers also used a technology called Natural Language Processing, implemented using IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence computer, which can answer questions posed in natural language.

The UCLA team fed the application more than 2,000 example common inquiries interventional radiologists receive during a consultation. Through this type of learning, the application can instantly provide the best answer to the clinician’s question. As clinicians use the application, it progressively becomes smarter and more powerful.

“This research will benefit many groups within the hospital setting; and most importantly, patients will have better-informed providers,” said co-author Kevin Seals, M.D., resident physician in radiology at UCLA and the programmer of the application.

The Society of Interventional Radiology is a nonprofit, professional medical society representing more than 7,000 practicing interventional radiology physicians, scientists and clinical associates, dedicated to improving patient care through the limitless potential of image-guided therapies.