AI technology is having a significant impact on healthcare already.
Bob Freiburger says the scan and artificial intelligence analysis to assess his heart attack risk was well worth the out-of-pocket expense.
He learned his coronary arteries are clear overall from plaque, and what small amount he does have is manageable. Plaque buildup can lead to a heart attack.
Freiburger is among a small number of Lee Health patients who have had a more advanced CT scan done to get a detailed look at the amount of plaque in his coronary arteries. The findings are combined with an artificial intelligence application that gave him a report of his heart attack risk.
The 77-year-old has peace of mind he’s not likely to wind up in an emergency room with a potentially life-altering event.
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“If they did that with every patient, it (would) be life saving for a lot of people,” said Freibuger, a self-employed executive coach.
Lee Health is using an artificial intelligence platform developed by a company called Cleerly to provide patients with a risk analysis based on plaque and no other symptoms, said Dr. Richard Chazal, medical director of Lee Health’s Heart & Vascular Institute.
The test can be a game changer because it is preventive focused; a finding of plaque build up can be addressed with medicine and the test repeated in future years, he said.
That’s a huge plus compared to how heart attacks historically are treated after symptom onset and heart damage, he said.
Artificial intelligence is expected to have a major impact in all areas of health care in the coming years, from early disease detection to improved health outcomes, along with helping hospitals and the health care industry as a whole become more efficient.
According to data from Statista, artificial intelligence in healthcare was valued at around $11 billion worldwide in 2021 and will be worth $188 billion by 2030.
In January, the National Bureau of Economic Research released data that hospitals could save $360 billion over the next five years by efficiencies that are possible through artificial intelligence.
How did he learn about the test?
Freiburger says he has been focused on his health for years, in part because of his occupation as an executive coach for health professionals and because of his family history.
He learned a few months ago from Chazal that Lee Health was rolling out coronary computed tomography angiography scans in concert with the Cleerly artificial intelligence analysis as a benefit for Lee Health employees.
Freiburger wanted in right away for himself and became a self-pay patient at $1,500.
Roughly 50 Lee Health patients have opted for the test out of pocket, Chazal said.
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Freiburger said Chazal went over his results artery by artery, was able to rotate the images of his arteries on the computer screen to show the details, and he got a 26-page report from Cleerly.
“It was absolutely incredible,” he said. “I was blown away.”
He was put on a low-dose statin to lower his cholesterol, which came down 40% in a matter of months. He will go through the test and analysis again in five years.
Freiburger said he has been recommending family members get the test and analysis done, he’s told at least one physician about it and dozens of friends.
“I would say two (friends) say, ‘I need to do this and I need to do it soon,’” he said.
Chazal said Cleerly provides one analysis for the physician and a second one for the patient which explains what is going on in understandable terms. Freiburger agreed.
“It is going to be very understandable with the physician sitting down with the patient,” Freiburger said. “It is very informative.”
Why Lee Health employees?
Lee Health decided about 18 months ago to provide the test as benefit to employees who are 40 and older with no risk of heart disease, and a phase two group is employees 45 and older.
The noninvasive scan identifies plaque as small as a cubic millimeter.
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Patients fall into a staging protocol of zero to three for plaque level, with stage one being mild while stage three is severe, he said.
“So if the patient has plaque we can treat it and come back later to see if the plaque is getting better, staying the same or worsening,” Chazal said.
A patient with a stage one level of mild plaque would be retested in three years while someone at a stage three would be retested in one year.
Dr. Malissa Wood, vice president and chief physician executive at the heart institute, said the artificial intelligence technology is a game changer for identifying heart disease and getting patients into treatment.
“Further, we now have the ability to track heart disease over time and provide intervention to patients before they experience a problematic heart event,” she said. “It will give us more insight into helping prevent heart disease and provide more personalized cardiac care.”
Out of roughly 600 employees who have been tested so far, Chazel said the vast majority are stage one with mild plaque. The data will be used in study findings.