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Physician-scientist and AMA member Michael Abramoff, MD, PhD, identified a problem and then painstakingly spent eight years building an augmented intelligence (AI) solution to fix it.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a quartet of venture capital firms say he forged a path that others seeking to develop health care AI systems can follow.

A professor of ophthalmology at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine, Dr. Abramoff was disturbed by how long it often takes for patients with diabetes to see an eye-care specialist for a diabetic retinopathy exam. And he was bothered by how specialists’ schedules are frequently crammed full of routine eye-exam visits that did not require their level of expertise.

“Clearly, the standard practice is not working, and people are not getting the exams they need,” Dr. Abramoff said, citing various studies finding that between 15% and 50% of patients who need a diabetic retinopathy exam are getting one.

A diabetic retinopathy screening by a specialist costs $220. A screening using Dr. Abramoff’s system, called IDx-DR, costs $30 to $50.

“I measure success by making patients’ lives better. That’s what this is about—making it easier to get the diagnosis and the therapies they need at lower cost,” he said.

The AMA believes AI, often referred to as “artificial intelligence” in popular culture, should enhance human intelligence rather than replace it.

Dr. Abramoff agreed.

“You had a phase where some said AI will replace doctors entirely,” he said. “We’re in a more realistic phase now, where we realize these systems are not perfect and have to fit into a larger system.”