AI better than doctors at assessing eye problems, study finds

A new study has found that the artificial intelligence (AI) model that powers ChatGPT can assess eye problems to a better standard that some doctors.

The research involved GPT-4 – which is the driving force behind the well-known online chatbot, ChatGPT – being tested against doctors with varying levels of seniority, including:

  • Unspecialised junior doctors
  • Trainee eye doctors
  • Expert eye doctors

The AI scored significantly higher than unspecialised group of junior doctors, who were comparable with GPs in their ophthalmology knowledge, according to the University of Cambridge which conducted the research.

The trainee and expert eye doctors scored similarly to GPT-4, although the best-performing doctors outscored the AI.

The university highlights that ‘large language models’ like GPT-4 are unlikely to replace healthcare professionals, but could prove useful in triaging and in times when access to specialists is limited.

The study’s lead author, Dr Arun Thirunavukarasu, said: “Even taking the future use of AI into account, I think doctors will continue to be in charge of patient care.

“The most important thing is to empower patients to decide whether they want computer systems to be involved or not. That will be an individual decision for each patient to make.”

The University of Cambridge believes its study is better than others of its type as it was based against contemporary knowledge – i.e., doctors still practising, opposed to sets of exam results.

Arun added: “Doctors aren’t revising for exams for their whole career. We wanted to see how AI fared when pitted against to the on-the-spot knowledge and abilities of practicing doctors, to provide a fair comparison.”

GPT-4 was given 87 patient cases as part of the test and tasked with giving treatment advice or a diagnosis, based on four options.

It included questions on extreme light sensitivity, decreased vision, lesions, and itchy and painful eyes. The results have been published in the journal PLOS Digital Health.

The role of AI will be explored at National Health Executive’s ‘Digital Health’ online conference next month, where leaders across the sector will discuss a technology-enabled workforce, addressing health inequalities using the power of digital and more.

Image credit: iStock


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