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Boudewijn Lelieveldt: 'AI can help, but not replace, doctors and other healthcare providers'

‘I would never want to be treated by a computer,’ says Boudewijn Lelieveldt, Head of Radiology at the Laboratory for Clinical and Experimental Image Processing and Medical Delta professor in the Bioinformatics group at Delft University of Technology. No matter how intelligent a system, we have to continue to leave decision-making to human doctors, says Lelieveldt.

‘We develop intelligent systems capable of finding hidden patters in large sets of imaging data. They also make these patterns visible for us and express them in measurements,’ says Lelieveldt when asked to summarise his work. 

Boudewijn Lelieveldt, Professor of Biomedical Imaging at LUMC

Smartphone as source of inspiration

Imaging technology is central to the work of Lelieveldt’s group. ‘I’m inspired by the limitless possibilities of the smartphone. My phone recognises me. And a smart MRI scanner can recognise a heart, and measure how well it functions. A computer can also measure subtle disease effects invisible to the naked eye.’ 

Lelieveldt continues: ‘A filter on my phone can transform a holiday picture into a Van Gogh-style painting. We are working on a similar technique that translates MRI images into CT images indistinguishable from the real thing, or that process MRI images much faster. It’s great, because by keeping patients out of CT scanners we avoid a lot of dangerous x-ray radiation. And with patients spending less time in scanners, we save on scanning time and minimise discomfort.’ 

Deep fake technology makes practising almost like the real thing

Lelieveldt predicts that intelligent imaging technology can help improve healthcare in many other domains. ‘Keyhole surgery, or laparoscopy, involves surgeons having to - as it were - paint a hall through the letterbox. It’s really difficult, so surgeons have to practise a lot. Simulators with a piece of rubber don’t really approximate the real experience. Some groups already work with much more life-like simulations thank to AI.’ Other systems can analyse OR images to estimate when an operation is nearly complete. This allows the planner to deploy cleaners and other scarce OR personnel more efficiently.

Your doctor once again has eyes for you 

AI is also slowly conquering the consulting room, says Lelieveldt. ‘A frequently heard complaint is that doctors spend more time during consultations looking at their computer screen than at their patients. There’s an upcoming system that fills in all the forms during the consultation. All doctors have to do is check that everything was filled in correctly.’

Text: Rianne Lindhout
Photo: Patricia Nauta

MRI image of a heart. Photo: Rob van der Geest
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