As much as digital technology has radically altered the field of medicine, the profession is still primarily analog. Medical computers and medical tablets can help practitioners pull up medical records with a few taps of the finger, but without computer vision, they cannot tell you if the dark spot on a mammogram is something to worry about. 

So much of medicine is still based on human beings using their senses, especially sight. For instance, a mammogram on its own is useless unless a doctor can see and identify potential growths in the image. Fortunately, recent advancements in computer vision have given doctors a second set of digital eyes, enhancing care for millions of patients around the world.

What is computer vision?

The goal of computer vision is for computers to process and analyze visual data in much the same way the human brain does. Without computer vision, a computer can display images or videos, but it cannot “understand” what’s in the images it’s being told to display. To the computer, the image is just an array of colored pixels. 

For instance, a computer on its own would have no way of knowing that a video of a dog playing in grass depicts a dog playing in some grass. The computer would only “know” the color values that have been assigned to each pixel during each frame. Computer vision takes that pixel data, analyzes it, and uses it to tell that the dog is a distinct object separate from the grass and can track the dog as it moves. Sufficiently advanced computer vision programs would even be able to identify that the dog is a dog, not just a moving object. 

In many ways, computer vision has become a familiar part of our everyday experience with technology. For example, facial recognition technology is a form of computer vision. When you post a picture of you and your friends on social media, and it accurately identifies your friends in the photos and suggests you tag them, that’s computer vision in action. Even those “Captchas” people have to fill out before signing up for websites are an example of computer vision. Filling them out helps the program more accurately identify letters and objects in photos. 

Computer Vision and Medicine

Doctors and nurses rely on their sight every day, whether they’re diagnosing rashes, analyzing x-rays, or performing complicated surgeries. Without the ability to make accurate medical assessments based on visual cues, the medical profession would be, for lack of a better term, flying blind. Yet even the most skilled doctors make mistakes, and until recently, it would take another doctor to catch such mistakes. But, thanks to computer vision, things are changing for the better. 

Below are some of the ways computer vision enhances care for millions of patients. 

Medical Imaging and Cancer Detection

Accurate diagnosis is often quite literally a matter of life and death. It’s not something you want to leave up to human error. Computer vision allows patients to rest assured in the knowledge that even if their doctor doesn’t see something, the medical panel PC the doctor is using will. The technology can take an MRI, X-Ray, mammogram, sonogram, etc., analyze it, and identify potential problems before the image is displayed on the screen. This is particularly valuable to oncologists and radiologists, who use computer vision to identify various kinds of cancer. Computer vision often catches cancerous growths in diagnostic images well before their human counterparts. Given how critical early diagnosis often is to a good prognosis, computer vision’s ability to more accurately diagnose cancer than highly trained doctors means the technology is capable of saving countless lives.

COVID-19 Detection and Prevention

By now, nearly everyone should be familiar with nasal swab COVID-19 tests. PCR tests are still the gold standard for accurately diagnosing COVID-19, but results can sometimes take days to receive. There are rapid tests available, but they produce more false results than PCR tests. With hospitals reaching capacity with each successive wave of the pandemic, practitioners need other ways to diagnose patients who come in with symptoms. 

That’s where computer vision comes in. Computer vision applications have been shown to diagnose COVID-19 based on digital chest x-rays with greater accuracy than many rapid COVID tests. That way, hospitals have the tools they need to provide proper care during a surge. 

Computer vision can even help medical facilities enforce COVID-19 safety protocols. For example, the technology can monitor the distance between patients in the waiting room and trigger a PA announcement about social distancing when it catches people closer than six feet apart. On a larger scale, computer vision can monitor security camera footage to identify and locate anyone in the facility who is not wearing a mask and send an alert to a nearby staff member’s medical tablet so they can assess the situation further. 

Managing Patient Flow

To avoid running out of space and resources during a COVID surge, hospitals need to move patients through the system as efficiently as possible. After all, long lines, excessive wait times, and empty beds can cost lives. Hospitals can use computer vision applications to track which beds are occupied. The system can alert the nearby staff on their medical tablets when a bed becomes available. That way, beds don’t sit empty when such space is at a premium. 

Patient Monitoring

While hospital-acquired infections tend to be more headline-grabbing, patient falls are among the most serious dangers people face in hospitals, with hundreds of thousands of incidents happening each year. Prior to the pandemic, many facilities would have staff members take shifts sitting in people’s rooms to monitor them so they don’t fall. But with healthcare staffing resources spread thin during the pandemic, many hospitals have turned to computer vision to more efficiently monitor their patients. When the system detects a patient has fallen, it alerts the nearest staff member to come to tend to the situation. This frees up staff to tend to other patients while not sacrificing care.

The Bottom Line

If you’re interested in learning how medical computers and tablets can use computer vision to enhance care at your clinic or hospital, contact the experts at Cybernet today!