How AI and big data can reduce premature births

Karen Roby learned how Kentucky-based Lucina Health uses AI to determine whether a woman is at risk for a premature birth.

How AI and big data can reduce premature births Karen Roby learned how Kentucky-based Lucina Health uses AI to determine whether a woman is at risk for a premature birth.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is making a big impact on the medical world. From radiology to pathology and orthopedics to geriatric medicine, it's not uncommon to hear that researchers and physicians are turning to AI to crunch data. The specialty of maternal-fetal medicine is seeing real benefits from this new technology.

Lucina Health in Louisville, KY, has developed a program that can now identify women at risk for premature delivery. Lucina founder and CEO Kevin Bramer said their team works diligently to find the at-risk patients before it's too late. "We have data scientists, coding experts, developers that are all working together to develop products that can easily be used by the clinician," Bramer said.

The stakes are very high, as premature births have a profound impact on families and the insurers footing the bill. Premature deliveries and the aftercare cost Medicaid and insurers millions of dollars every year. "It's an epidemic," said Bramer, "babies are being born sicker and sicker, and it's not just the short-term problems but the lifelong implications."

Pre-term babies often face a myriad of health problems, from lung disease and eye issues to mental illness and growth delays. Dr. Larry Griffin, the medical director for Kentucky Medicaid insurer Passport, said families face an uphill battle when their babies are born prematurely.

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"The physical, mental, emotional, and financial pain that families can face through their lifetime is very significant," said Dr. Griffin.

Bramer said the information has always been there, but before AI, it was nearly impossible to comb through the data to find the women most at risk. "Years ago, we had stacks of data systems, and now we can do it basically through a proprietary cloud, so it's much cheaper". Bramer added, "Through various applications, we're able to manage the data much faster so we can catch the red flags in real time".

Lucina started its pilot program with Kentucky Medicaid insurer Passport a few years ago, and positive results are now being realized. In 2018, Passport saw 13.5% fewer preterm births compared to the prior six months. With the help of AI, Dr. Griffin said, the women can be identified earlier, and doctors can intervene sooner, which often leads to better outcomes. "I've been a practicing obstetrician for 40 years, and I think these preliminary results are very positive and we're very optimistic."

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By Karen Roby

Karen Roby is a reporter for TechRepublic. Prior to joining CBS Interactive, Karen worked as an anchor and reporter for several CBS affiliate stations owned by Hearst Communications and Gray Television.