Google Research

Race- and Ethnicity-Stratified Analysis of an Artificial Intelligence–Based Tool for Skin Condition Diagnosis by Primary Care Physicians and Nurse Practitioners



Background: Many dermatologic cases are first evaluated by primary care physicians or nurse practitioners.

Objective: This study aimed to evaluate an artificial intelligence (AI)-based tool that assists with interpreting dermatologic conditions.

Methods: We developed an AI-based tool and conducted a randomized multi-reader, multi-case study (20 primary care physicians, 20 nurse practitioners, and 1047 retrospective teledermatology cases) to evaluate its utility. Cases were enriched and comprised 120 skin conditions. Readers were recruited to optimize for geographical diversity; the primary care physicians practiced across 12 states (2-32 years of experience, mean 11.3 years), and the nurse practitioners practiced across 9 states (2-34 years of experience, mean 13.1 years). To avoid memory effects from incomplete washout, each case was read once by each clinician either with or without AI assistance, with the assignment randomized. The primary analyses evaluated the top-1 agreement, defined as the agreement rate of the clinicians’ primary diagnosis with the reference diagnoses provided by a panel of dermatologists (per case: 3 dermatologists from a pool of 12, practicing across 8 states, with 5-13 years of experience, mean 7.2 years of experience). We additionally conducted subgroup analyses stratified by cases’ self-reported race and ethnicity and measured the performance spread: the maximum performance subtracted by the minimum across subgroups.

Results: The AI’s standalone top-1 agreement was 63%, and AI assistance was significantly associated with higher agreement with reference diagnoses. For primary care physicians, the increase in diagnostic agreement was 10% (P<.001), from 48% to 58%; for nurse practitioners, the increase was 12% (P<.001), from 46% to 58%. When stratified by cases’ self-reported race or ethnicity, the AI’s performance was 59%-62% for Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, other, and Hispanic or Latinx individuals and 67% for both Black or African American and White subgroups. For the clinicians, AI assistance–associated improvements across subgroups were in the range of 8%-12% for primary care physicians and 8%-15% for nurse practitioners. The performance spread across subgroups was 5.3% unassisted vs 6.6% assisted for primary care physicians and 5.2% unassisted vs 6.0% assisted for nurse practitioners. In both unassisted and AI-assisted modalities, and for both primary care physicians and nurse practitioners, the subgroup with the highest performance on average was Black or African American individuals, though the differences with other subgroups were small and had overlapping 95% CIs.

Conclusions: AI assistance was associated with significantly improved diagnostic agreement with dermatologists. Across race and ethnicity subgroups, for both primary care physicians and nurse practitioners, the effect of AI assistance remained high at 8%-15%, and the performance spread was similar at 5%-7%.

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