AI sepsis tool more reliable than human doctors finds study

Technology that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to plan treatment for patients suffering from sepsis makes more reliable decisions than human doctors according to its developers at Imperial College London

Responsible for around 44,000 deaths every year in the UK, sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body's response to infection causes injury to its own tissues and organs. The condition can cause a drastic drop in blood pressure leaving organs deprived of blood flow and oxygen so as well as the use of antibiotics to fight the infection, treatment also includes extra fluids and medication that tightens blood vessels in order to raise the blood pressure.

Sepsis can cause a life-threatening drop in blood pressure

According to a study published in the journal Nature Medicine the new system 'learnt' the best treatment strategy for a patient by analysing the records of about 100,000 hospital patients and every single doctor's decisions affecting them. Researchers looked back at US patient records from 130 intensive care units over a 15-year period to explore whether the AI system's recommendations might have been able to improve patient outcomes, compared with standard care.

The results revealed that 98 per cent of the time, the technology matched or was better than the human doctors' decision. The study also found that mortality was lowest in patients where the human doctor's doses of fluids and vasopressor matched the AI system's suggestion. However, when the doctor's decision differed from the AI system, a patient had a reduced chance of survival.

Dr Aldo Faisal, senior author from the Department of Bioengineering and the Department of Computing at Imperial, said: "Sepsis is one of the biggest killers in the UK - and claims six million lives worldwide - so we desperately need new tools at our disposal to help patients. At Imperial, we believe that AI for healthcare is the solution. Our new AI system was able to analyse a patient's data - such as blood pressure and heart rate - and decide the best treatment strategy."

Professor Anthony Gordon, senior author from the Department of Surgery & Cancer at Imperial explained: "We know that most patients with sepsis need fluid drips and in more severe cases also need vasopressors to maintain blood pressure and blood flow. There is still much debate amongst clinicians about how much fluid to give and when to start vasopressors. There are clinical guidelines but they provide general advice. The AI Clinician is able to learn what is the best option for each individual patient at that moment in time."

Faisal added that the technology could have applications in other areas of medicine, such as optimising the delivery of cancer therapies.

The team now plans to trial the AI Clinician in UK hospitals.