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Crowdsourced Medical Imaging Analysis

Use home computer users to boost the power of medical imaging.
  [vote for,

Every so often, people need to undergo one of the many medical imaging procedures. There are numerous techniques, from the common X-ray for bone fractures, to magnetic resonance imaging for abnormalities of soft tissue.

In the past, X-rays for example, relied upon large sheets of photographic film which were looked at by a busy junior doctor at the end of a 30hr shift, They looked at the suspected area before declaring the metacarpal broken and the person a fool for hitting a wall. Nowadays, X-rays can be electronically displayed. Whereupon the suspected area is looked at, the metacarpal declared broken, and the person declared a fool for hitting a wall. More advanced imaging is handled in a similar way, although there is often an imaging technician available to help interpretation.

What links diverse medical imaging techniques, is that they're often looking for something specific, like a broken metacarpal or evidence of congenital abnormalities. Once the tired junior doctor has confirmed a broken bone, they're likely to carry on along their original plan in the absence of any fragments or other related complications. The electronic image is then filed away on a hard drive somewhere until it is no longer needed, accidentally deleted or distributed to the world as part of a colossal data breach during the latest big budget IT failure.

As someone who spends a tremendous amount of time analyzing imaging data, I'm acutely aware of how much I'm guided by what I am looking for. Often, quite glaringly obvious phenomena are missed because you're simply not looking for it. Alternatively, you may have learned that spending half a day looking at B is somewhat detrimental to your detailed analysis of A, so its consciously or unconsciously ignored. A third way, is that you display the images in such a way as to maximize your chances of noticing phenomenon A, while B disappears into the noise.

I suspect similar things happen with medical imaging all the time. Its easy to miss a grape seed sized tumour in the pancreas when you're a hepatologist looking for gall stones.

If Amazon's Mechanical Turk is anything to go by, it's surprisingly easy to get large numbers of people to perform computer based tasks for little money. This is the model that could be used.

Once electronic imaging data is collected, the data should be carefully stripped* of identifying data and uploaded to a server. From here the imaging data may be analyzed by freelance people from around the world. Any oddities within the imaging data are then referred up to people with some actual training. Initially, much dreadful dross will be flagged up. Eventually however, individuals will emerge with real talent, either generally or in specific types of imaging. These people can gradually be promoted, with progressive financial incentives. Soon they'll be spotting real medical issues within the images and these can be referred all the way along to the managing physician. Often, these will simply confirm the problem that the imaging was performed for. But every now and then, they'll spot something the medical staff missed, especially if several people flag the same thing in the data.

The best people to set this up would be the companies that make the equipment. The financial incentives would likely be easily covered by the hospital who will be happy to take the extra business**. The companies can boast about enhanced detection rates. Strangely, people will also do it out of curiosity, like with the planet-finding, or out of some macabre fascination with broken metacarpals. Perhaps people will try and cheat, using automated analysis, but still, good luck to them.

*carefully, not like normal. ** assuming the US system of hospitals and insurance companies looking for extra justification to screw each other

bs0u0155, Jul 06 2017


       Reminds me of Eyewire, which is not at all this, but is somewhat related. (Crowdsourced analysis of how nerves are routed in the retina for connectome purposes)
notexactly, Jul 06 2017

       Stick it on the pile of future jobs for laid off accountants.
wjt, Jul 06 2017

       //future jobs for laid off accountants// Accountancy - n., an inability to count.   

       This is actually not such a bad idea.   

       Genomic data might also benefit from this. Automation is much easier for genomic analysis, but enthusiastic amateurs might still make interesting findings, or develop excellent software.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 06 2017

       As another thought, anatomy's thought to be a bit of a dead science, but every now and then there's a new nerve or whatnot found. Shirley a great big sample size is the way to go for better measurements/modest discoveries?
bs0u0155, Jul 06 2017

       I thought about using something similar to find petroleum from acoustic maps as well as computed image representations of oil fields. I thought perhaps even a handyphone app could have a training set where people could learn to recognize valuable squiggles (so to speak) at images then look through unprocessed images to find further valuable squiggles. While deep AI has outperformed humans at Go, crowdsourced petroleum finding might find lots of petroleum anyway.   

       Also a 1/10% of 1% royalty from finding new petroleum could get hundreds of thousands of people doing this.
beanangel, Jul 07 2017

       If I understand that correctly, 10% is 0.1 of 1. So, 1/10% = 1/0.1. 1/0.1 is 10%. That's a hell of a finders royalty.
bs0u0155, Jul 07 2017

       [bs0u0155] noted. also, i liked it better before i changed it. talk about optimism!
beanangel, Jul 07 2017

       What I like most about this idea is that you've found two new ways to spell metacarpal.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 07 2017

       //found two new ways to spell metacarpal//   

       ugh, well, the opportunities for novel research in the field of anatomy are pretty slim. Fortunately, a quick change of name and you have a whole new thing to study. If you'll excuse me, I have to tend to my side business of re-labeling tubes. Supplying antibodies to those unaware of protein synonyms is a necessary service I provide to enable the re- distribution of grant money away from the rich, feeble minded or partially educated.
bs0u0155, Jul 07 2017

       I'd always assumed that alternative splicing only existed to fill all the synonyms.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 07 2017

       Interesting idea for the hobbyist, but I think I hear the malpractice lawyers sharpening their talons, or is that the metacarpal? Darn, where did I put that copy of Gray's Anatomy...
tumblewit, Jul 07 2017

       Bunned halfway through for the prose alone.
Voice, Jul 08 2017

       The danger or this "outsource medical imaging" scheme is that there are very smart and very skilled physicians who, by virtue of not being in the US, are pain very little. If this crew gets the power to read medical images it will be no time at all before they are reading all the images, possibly with one US radiologist to then gesture approvingly. The other , non gesturing highly paid US radiologists will be high and dry. They are a savvy bunch themselves, these highly paid US radiologists, and so watch carefully for any sign of this outsourcing scheme and quash it accordingly.
bungston, Jul 08 2017

       "Well, Mr. Steunkrantz, the bad news is that none of our crowdsourcers have found any abnormality to explain your symptoms or offer a therapeutic opportunity. The good news is that they've found Wally."
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 08 2017


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