GE and Partners HealthCare are looking to revolutionize the way doctors treat patients by adding the manufacturing giant’s artificial intelligence expertise to a partnership with the nonprofit hospital and physicians network over the next decade.
The goal is to transform the notoriously slow-to-innovate health care industry by better analyzing the mountains of data doctors juggle in the hopes of coming up with better treatment methods and clearer diagnoses for the patients of the not-so-distant future.
“We have more and more information, and the information comes at our clinicians in a way that can be unmanageable,” said David Torchiana, CEO of Partners HealthCare. “In the end, this is about making health care better and making the lives of our patients better.”
GE and Partners, which owns Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will spend the next 10 years creating artificial intelligence software that can detect how severe a stroke is and identify tumors in medical images. But more important than individual uses, officials said, will be an app store for health care AI algorithms, where hospitals can buy or sell software they’ve made.
A hospital using AI will improve patient care and allow doctors to spend more time with patients instead of toiling over mindless data entry tasks, GE Healthcare and Partners said, noting an AI infusion in health care worldwide could reduce costs and improve access.
The first use of the technology will focus on medical images such as X-rays, MRIs and other scans and could help determine the impact of a stroke, quickly identify emergency room patients with fractures, and help track how tumors respond to new cancer treatments. A computer would analyze the images and pick out abnormal results rather than requiring a doctor or technician to spend time staring at scans.
“Doctors are spending time on things that really are incredibly redundant, and if a machine can do it, let them do it,” said Zen Chu, faculty director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s health care ventures course and the Hacking Medicine initiative. “If there’s an easier way to enter all that data, do it,” he said, “so doctors can spend more time with that patient.”
Still, many warnings about AI’s impact on jobs focus on health care. Asked what the impact on Partners’ hospitals would be, Torchiana said it is impossible to know how the workforce will evolve. AI, he said, is far more powerful when surrounded by trained doctors and clinicians, and is more likely to make hospitals more efficient than to put doctors out of work.
Health care, Torchiana said, “generally has a problem in being incredibly labor-intensive and having shown relatively less gains in productivity than the rest of the economy.”
Teams from both companies will work out of an office in the Boston area, under Partners’ existing Center for Clinical Data Science. Partners and GE both refused to say how much money or how many employees would be dedicated to the effort, with GE Healthcare CEO John Flannery calling it a “very significant investment.” A GE Healthcare spokeswoman said the partnership is one of GE’s biggest-ever investments in a digital initiative.
“I think the possibilities are vast and significant,” Flannery said. “As these solutions evolve and are just part of the fabric of health care, we’re going to see health care improve.”
The deal with Partners is GE’s second big initiative with an entrenched Boston institution since its move to the city last year. In January, GE and the Celtics announced a deal to put the GE logo on jerseys, along with a data and analytics partnership.