The pandemic has pushed hospitals to their limits. A new machine learning system could help doctors make sure the most severe cases get timely, appropriate care.

What’s new: Anuroop Sriram, Matthew Muckley, and colleagues at Facebook, NYU School of Medicine, and NYU Abu Dhabi developed a system that examines X-ray images to predict which Covid-19 patients are at greatest risk of decline.

Key insight: Previous methods assess Covid risk based on a single chest X-ray. But when making assessments, clinicians often look for relative changes between successive X-rays to determine whether a patient’s condition is improving or deteriorating. The researchers used consecutive X-rays to improve risk assessment.

How it works: The authors trained their system to predict the probability that a patient would die, require intubation, need intensive care, or need more oxygen over the next 24, 48, 72, or 96 hours.

  • The authors augmented two datasets that comprise chest X-rays of Covid patients via cropping, flipping, or random noise. Using the augmented data, they pretrained two DenseNet-121 encoders using a contrastive loss function. The contrastive loss encouraged the models to produce similar representations if the two images had the same parent X-ray and dissimilar representations otherwise.
  • They fine-tuned the system on NYU Covid, a dataset that contains sequences of chest X-rays labelled with the patients’ outcomes.
  • After pretraining, the first encoder generated a representation of each X-ray in a sequence. A transformer processed these representations. The researchers summed its output into a single vector.
  • A linear classifier used this vector to make the final prediction.

Results: The system achieved a mean AUC (area under the curve, a measure of true versus false positives where 1 is a perfect score) of 0.785, 0.801, 0.790, and 0.790 when predicting adverse outcomes at 24, 48, 72, and 96 hours into the future, respectively. Those scores were comparable to those of two clinicians who achieved an average AUC of 0.784, 0.787, 0.761 and 0.754.

Why it matters: Pretraining followed by fine-tuning opens up important applications where data is too scarce for simpler learning approaches.
We’re thinking: The pandemic has been an early test of AI’s utility in medicine. The record so far has been mixed, but we’re glad to see research that shows promising results for both fighting Covid and improving healthcare in general.


Subscribe to The Batch

Stay updated with weekly AI News and Insights delivered to your inbox