Technology Advancements & Artificial Intelligence in Gastroenterology

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How can wearable devices, ingestibles, virtual reality and artificial intelligence benefit your GI practice?

Did you read the recent news story1 that revealed that the world’s first living robots can now reproduce? I don’t know about you, but reading that headline was a little shocking on several levels, to say the least. First of all, did you realize that “living robots” were even a thing? And secondly, the notion that robots can reproduce is frankly mind-boggling, and maybe even a little (or a lot) dystopian. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that we are in any immediate danger of being overtaken by robots. In fact, if you went on to read the fine print in this story, you would have learned that the robots they were describing aren’t “robots” in the sense that we typically think of them, like R2D2 or C3PO. These robots are actually bundles of stem cells from African frogs that can be programmed to perform certain tasks using artificial intelligence (AI). Still pretty fascinating, and once you learn more, the concept becomes a little less scary and a lot more intriguing.

Scientists believe that with further development, some of the AI concepts that were used to program African frog stem cells could also be applied to medicine, for example as a means for improving the way that drugs are delivered in the human body. And the possibilities for advances in gastroenterology due to AI are truly limitless. GI technology is constantly evolving and changing. In this blog, we’ll discuss a few of the recent technological advances on the horizon and already in use by GI practices.

What Exactly Is AI?

Simply put, AI is the ability of a robot or computer to perform tasks that require human intelligence, such as learning and problem solving. The benefit of AI is that when it is used to handle repetitive tasks, it can allow humans more time to do the things that machines can’t, such as expressing empathy and being creative. 

While the concept of AI has been used since 1950, the phrase “machine learning” (ML) began to emerge in the 1980s to describe methods for analyzing data and learning predictive models1. According to an article in Gastroenterology & Hepatology, The Independent Peer-Reviewed Journal2, AI, fueled by ML, uses data to learn patterns to make predictions on outcomes or events. 

One of the most common uses of AI is the use of digital assistants like Siri or Alexa to “listen” to commands and perform tasks based on instructions. Smart home devices, Netflix recommendations and Google search engines are more examples of AI that are integrated into our daily lives.

There are several limitations, however. The management of GI diseases is complex. It requires critical thinking and analysis of many different factors, including patient history and physical exams, as well as an understanding of each individual patient’s social determinants of health, for example, insurance status, access to healthy food, etc. The years and years of medical training and experience are what enable physicians to tailor management to the individual patient. Treating the individual patient holistically is not something that AI can do at this time.

So, it’s hard to imagine a world where gastroenterologists will one day say, “Siri, go perform a colonoscopy in room #2.” But if you consider how AI has helped advance medicine over the last twenty years, the possibilities for how it could continue to help GI practices save time and improve patient care in the future reach as far as our imaginations will take us.

GI Technology that Affects Your Practice

So, what are some recent advances in gastroenterology, and how could they impact your practice? Here are just a few of the latest areas of new technology for the digestive system that could benefit gastroenterology staff and your patients by helping to improve outcomes and save time. 

Wearable Technology & Mobile Apps

Remember when we used to think that attaching a pedometer to your belt was an innovative way to track your activity level? We have since moved on to more complex wearable devices and apps to help monitor our health and track our sleeping patterns, physical activity, heart rate, breathing patterns and so much more.  

According to an article published by the World Journal of Gastroenterology3, the field of gastroenterology, in particular, has seen a surge in wearable technology to monitor inflammatory bowel disease, pain and even gut activity. Some of the latest devices include:

  • SWEATSENSER4: Monitors potential markers for inflammatory bowel disease using sweat-based wearable technology 
  • Electrogastrogram5: Similar to an EKG of the heart but records the electrical signals that travel through the muscles of the stomach
  • AbStats6: A noninvasive abdominal device that monitors digestion using acoustic signals 

Gut health apps such as Cara Care, Bowelle and mySymptoms can help patients track and monitor digestive health, identify IBS triggers and symptoms and even generate reports that can be shared with their gastroenterologist. And mobile EHR apps can allow you to access patient data from anywhere you have an internet connection right from your smartphone. Gastroenterologists can view appointments, chart notes, lab results and more, which can help lead to time savings that you could spend on patient care.

Ingestibles 

It’s no secret that colonoscopies are no fun for patients. What if instead, your patients could simply take a pill and return home with a monitoring device, eliminating the need for a traditional colonoscopy? Ingestible electronic devices7 are already becoming a reality and offer many advantages that may help improve the diagnosis and treatment of everything from gastrointestinal infections to diabetes. Examples of these devices include:

  • IMBED8: An ingestible, gastrointestinal diagnostic device capable of detecting upper gastrointestinal bleeding that could transform the management and diagnosis of gastrointestinal disease. 
  • ScotCap Test9: A minimally invasive colon capsule endoscopy currently being introduced in Scotland as an alternative to colonoscopy. A capsule containing two tiny cameras is swallowed that takes pictures of the lining of the bowel to look for any problems or signs of disease. 

Virtual Reality

Initially used as a training tool for physicians, virtual reality (VR) is now being used to divert patients’ attention from chronic GI pain. According to an article in GI & Hepatology News10, Brennan Spiegel, MD, AGAF, Director of Health Services Research for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center explains, “The field of gastroenterology is a particularly promising area for treatment based on VR because of the well-established brain-gut interaction.” The article points out that studies show that brain function changes similar to those observed in patients taking opioids have been seen in patients using VR to control pain. 

Artificial Intelligence in Gastroenterology

“Application of Artificial Intelligence to Gastroenterology and Hepatology”11, an article published by the American Gastroenterological Association, states that the application of AI to medicine has made tremendous strides over the last 20 years and has been explored for specific use in GI technology. 

Specific uses of AI in gastroenterology currently shaping how gastroenterologists practice include automated text analysis, automated Image analysis and recognition, and modeling data to predict outcomes.

Additionally, AI in gastroenterology12 has the potential to:
Improve speed
• Increase accuracy and precision
• Reduce costs
• Advance technical innovations
• Provide insight

• Detect cancer
Establish prognoses
• Predict responses to treatments

Looking for ways to ​​unveil opportunities that can help save time and improve care at your GI practice? Discover our analytics platform, gInsights™.

GI Computer Technology Innovations

The COVID-19 pandemic created an increased shift toward the use of digital technology, and recent advances in gastro technology, including the digitization of aggregated gastroenterology data, specifically clinical, laboratory and imaging have made EHRs a particularly valuable application for AI. So, for gastroenterologists who have the right software, such as a gastroenterology EHR, ERW, or tools for ASCs, AI may be already positively impacting how they practice medicine.

Additional advancements in computer technology used in GI-specific platforms that can help increase practice efficiency and enhance patient engagement include:
• Automated data capture
• Suggested coding
Practice Management tools
Telehealth for follow-ups
Dashboards that provide a bird’s eye view of your practice data
Patient self-scheduling and appointment reminders

Ready to learn more about how ModMed keeps up with advancements in gastroenterology? 

Learn how ModMed Gastroenterology can help modernize your practice

References:
1Smithsonian Magazine: Scientists Unveiled the World’s First Living Robots Last Year. Now, They Can Reproduce, December 2, 2021
2, 11American Gastroenterological Association: Application of Artificial Intelligence to Gastroenterology and Hepatology, January 1, 2020
3World Journal of Gastroenterology: Emerging wearable technology applications in gastroenterology: A review of the literature, March 28, 2021
4National Center for Biotechnology Medicine: A Sweat-based Wearable Enabling Technology for Real-time Monitoring of IL-1β and CRP as Potential Markers for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, September 18, 2020
5Science Direct: Practical Guide for Biomedical Signals Analysis Using Machine Learning Techniques, 2019
6GI Logic: Key Questions about AbStats Answered, 2018
7National Center for Biotechnology Medicine: Materials Advances for Next-Generation Ingestible Electronic Medical Devices, September 21, 2015
8National Center for Biotechnology Medicine: An Ingestible Bacterial-Electronic System to Monitor Gastrointestinal Health, May 25, 2018
9NHS Inform: Colon Capsule Endoscopy, September 29, 2021
10GI & Hepatology News: Virtual Reality Emerges as a Therapeutic Tool in Gastroenterology, April 12, 2019
12Gastroenterology & Hepatology: Artificial Intelligence for Understanding Imaging, Text, and Data in Gastroenterology, July 20

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial, legal, medical or consulting advice. Please consult with your legal counsel and other qualified advisors to ensure compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and standards.

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