Durham VA using artificial intelligence for colonoscopies – CBS17.com

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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The Department of Veterans Affairs is now leveraging artificial intelligence during colonoscopies.

The goal is to detect more polyps and prevent veterans from developing cancer.

Each year, 4,000 veterans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

“I think it’s great. l think it’s beneficial to everybody, beneficial to the doctors, beneficial to the patients,” said Marine Corps veteran Kevin Huggard. 

Right now, nearly 300 artificial intelligence devices are available in over 100 VA facilities across the United States, including at the Durham VA Healthcare System.

This initiative started in late 2022 as part of VA’s National Colorectal Screening Program.

“We are just seeing the tip of the spear in terms of AI and artificial intelligence and its use in healthcare. I think the key for colorectal cancer screening, especially with colonoscopy, is finding polyps,” said Dr. Ziad Gellad, Chief of Gastroenterology at the Durham VA Healthcare System. “The use of AI is really an extra set of eyes to helping us detect polyps at this point.”

Dr. Gellad says the beauty of the AI system is that it really doesn’t change the technique of the colonoscopy.

It works by simply highlighting areas in a green box on the screen, and then directing doctors to polyps, often little ones, they might not see otherwise.

“So, it’s taking the image from the processor and it’s comparing it to its system there that can identify polyps based on the image. Previously, there was no green boxes, we would just spot those on our own,” said Gellad. 

According to VA, AI increases the likelihood of finding polyps during a colonoscopy by more than 14%. 

However, the AI system isn’t perfect.

“I’m a proponent of AI. I think that the biggest disadvantage of AI at this point is that its accuracy is not 100%,” Gellad said. 

Sometimes AI will highlight other things in the lining of the colon that might look like polyps but aren’t.

“So, it does require a little bit more cognitive energy to look at a box that might pop up and analyze whether that’s a polyp or not, but in my mind that extra cognitive energy is worth the benefit, which is spending a little more time focusing on areas of the colon that might or might not be normal,” Gellad said. 

Gellad says most polyps don’t turn into cancer but since doctors don’t have a good way to determine that during a colonoscopy, polyps are removed.

Though that, he says, is one of the future promises of AI in colonoscopy. AI could one day distinguish if a polyp will turn into cancer, and help doctors decide whether it needs to come out at all.

“As the image databases get bigger and the computing power gets better, we’ll be able to start to have not just detection of polyps but actually the diagnosis of polyps as well and that will be practice changing for sure,” Gellad said. 

Giving veterans an extra layer of protection against colon cancer.

“This is the leading edge of technology when it comes to colorectal cancer screening and I think it’s fantastic to be able to provide that to veterans,” Gellad said.

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“Kind of looking forward to seeing what the AI does in the future because from what I see on the news and what I read, it’s really helping the medical field,” Huggard said. 

So far, more than 120,000 colonoscopies have been performed nationwide using the AI technology. 

Gellad says there is no risk to patient privacy with the use of AI in colonoscopy as those images stay fully within their system.

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