Creation of an artificial intelligence model for intubation difficulty classification by deep learning (convolutional neural network) using face images: an observational study

J Intensive Care. 2021 May 6;9(1):38. doi: 10.1186/s40560-021-00551-x.


Background: Tracheal intubation is the gold standard for securing the airway, and it is not uncommon to encounter intubation difficulties in intensive care units and emergency rooms. Currently, there is a need for an objective measure to assess intubation difficulties in emergency situations by physicians, residents, and paramedics who are unfamiliar with tracheal intubation. Artificial intelligence (AI) is currently used in medical imaging owing to advanced performance. We aimed to create an AI model to classify intubation difficulties from the patient's facial image using a convolutional neural network (CNN), which links the facial image with the actual difficulty of intubation.

Methods: Patients scheduled for surgery at Yamagata University Hospital between April and August 2020 were enrolled. Patients who underwent surgery with altered facial appearance, surgery with altered range of motion in the neck, or intubation performed by a physician with less than 3 years of anesthesia experience were excluded. Sixteen different facial images were obtained from the patients since the day after surgery. All images were judged as "Easy"/"Difficult" by an anesthesiologist, and an AI classification model was created using deep learning by linking the patient's facial image and the intubation difficulty. Receiver operating characteristic curves of actual intubation difficulty and AI model were developed, and sensitivity, specificity, and area under the curve (AUC) were calculated; median AUC was used as the result. Class activation heat maps were used to visualize how the AI model classifies intubation difficulties.

Results: The best AI model for classifying intubation difficulties from 16 different images was generated in the supine-side-closed mouth-base position. The accuracy was 80.5%; sensitivity, 81.8%; specificity, 83.3%; AUC, 0.864; and 95% confidence interval, [0.731-0.969], indicating that the class activation heat map was concentrated around the neck regardless of the background; the AI model recognized facial contours and identified intubation difficulties.

Conclusion: This is the first study to apply deep learning (CNN) to classify intubation difficulties using an AI model. We could create an AI model with an AUC of 0.864. Our AI model may be useful for tracheal intubation performed by inexperienced medical staff in emergency situations or under general anesthesia.

Keywords: AI; Activation heat map; Intubation difficulty; Tracheal intubation.