Evaluation of an Artificial Intelligence-Augmented Digital System for Histologic Classification of Colorectal Polyps

JAMA Netw Open. 2021 Nov 1;4(11):e2135271. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.35271.


Importance: Colorectal polyps are common, and their histopathologic classification is used in the planning of follow-up surveillance. Substantial variation has been observed in pathologists' classification of colorectal polyps, and improved assessment by pathologists may be associated with reduced subsequent underuse and overuse of colonoscopy.

Objective: To compare standard microscopic assessment with an artificial intelligence (AI)-augmented digital system that annotates regions of interest within digitized polyp tissue and predicts polyp type using a deep learning model to assist pathologists in colorectal polyp classification.

Design, setting, and participants: In this diagnostic study conducted at a tertiary academic medical center and a community hospital in New Hampshire, 100 slides with colorectal polyp samples were read by 15 pathologists using a microscope and an AI-augmented digital system, with a washout period of at least 12 weeks between use of each modality. The study was conducted from February 10 to July 10, 2020.

Main outcomes and measures: Accuracy and time of evaluation were used to compare pathologists' performance when a microscope was used with their performance when the AI-augmented digital system was used. Outcomes were compared using paired t tests and mixed-effects models.

Results: In assessments of 100 slides with colorectal polyp specimens, use of the AI-augmented digital system significantly improved pathologists' classification accuracy compared with microscopic assessment from 73.9% (95% CI, 71.7%-76.2%) to 80.8% (95% CI, 78.8%-82.8%) (P < .001). The overall difference in the evaluation time per slide between the digital system (mean, 21.7 seconds; 95% CI, 20.8-22.7 seconds) and microscopic examination (mean, 13.0 seconds; 95% CI, 12.4-13.5 seconds) was -8.8 seconds (95% CI, -9.8 to -7.7 seconds), but this difference decreased as pathologists became more familiar and experienced with the digital system; the difference between the time of evaluation on the last set of 20 slides for all pathologists when using the microscope and the digital system was 4.8 seconds (95% CI, 3.0-6.5 seconds).

Conclusions and relevance: In this diagnostic study, an AI-augmented digital system significantly improved the accuracy of pathologic interpretation of colorectal polyps compared with microscopic assessment. If applied broadly to clinical practice, this tool may be associated with decreases in subsequent overuse and underuse of colonoscopy and thus with improved patient outcomes and reduced health care costs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Artificial Intelligence*
  • Colonic Polyps / classification*
  • Colonic Polyps / diagnosis*
  • Colonic Polyps / diagnostic imaging*
  • Colonic Polyps / pathology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / classification*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Data Accuracy
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine / methods
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Microscopy*
  • New Hampshire