Physician-scientists at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh have introduced a groundbreaking smartphone app empowered by artificial intelligence (AI) to precisely diagnose ear infections, potentially reducing unnecessary antibiotic usage in young children. Published in JAMA Pediatrics, their research unveils a promising solution that could surpass the accuracy of trained clinicians in distinguishing acute otitis media (AOM) from other ear conditions.

Dr. Alejandro Hoberman, the senior author and a professor of pediatrics at Pitt’s School of Medicine, underscores the challenge of accurately diagnosing AOM, a common reason for antibiotic prescriptions in children. Hoberman, also president of UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics, stresses the importance of precise diagnosis to avoid both inadequate care and unnecessary antibiotic treatment.

With approximately 70% of children experiencing an ear infection before their first birthday, distinguishing AOM from other conditions, especially in infants, demands expertise due to subtle visual cues. AOM is often confused with otitis media with effusion, a condition that typically doesn’t involve bacteria and doesn’t require antibiotics.

To address this diagnostic challenge, Hoberman’s team curated a library of 1,151 videos of children’s eardrums, annotating them to train AI models to distinguish AOM from other conditions. The AI models, analyzing various features of the eardrum, achieved remarkable accuracy, surpassing many clinicians with sensitivity and specificity exceeding 93%.

“Our tool could significantly improve primary healthcare by aiding clinicians in accurately diagnosing AOM and guiding treatment decisions,” asserts Hoberman. Moreover, the captured videos can be integrated into patients’ medical records, serving as valuable educational resources for medical students, residents, and parents.

Hoberman envisions widespread implementation of this AI-powered technology across healthcare provider offices, revolutionizing pediatric care by enhancing the diagnosis of AOM and informing treatment decisions. This innovative approach holds the potential to optimize healthcare delivery and improve outcomes for children with ear infections.

By Impact Lab