Computers ‘learn’ to support high-stakes decisions during heart surgery

VA experts in artificial intelligence are teaching computers to think like “perfusionists”—operating room staff who work heart-lung machines during surgery.

Doctors often stop a patient’s heart during a major cardiac surgery. In this situation, a perfusionist operates a heart-lung bypass machine. The machine supplies needed blood and oxygen to the patient, whose heart is on hiatus.

In a paper titled “Using Machine Learning to Predict Perfusionists’ Critical Decision-Making During Cardiac Surgery,” researchers from the VA Boston Healthcare System, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Georgia Tech University detail their progress toward a computer-based system to help perfusionists in the OR make critical decisions as they operate the bypass machine.

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