Artificial intelligence outperforms pulmonologists in the interpretation of pulmonary function tests

Marko Topalovic, Nilakash Das, Pierre-Regis Burgel, Marc Daenen, Eric Derom, Christel Haenebalcke, Rob Janssen, Huib A. M. Kerstjens, Giuseppe Liistro, Renaud Louis, Vincent Ninane, Christophe Pison, Marc Schlesser, Piet Vercauter, Claus F. Vogelmeier, Emiel Wouters, Jokke Wynants, Wim Janssens*, R. De Pauw, C. DepuydtS. Muyldermans, V. Ringoet, D. Stevens, S. Bayat, J. Benet, E. Catho, J. Claustre, A. Fedi, M. A. Ferjani, R. Guzun, M. Isnard, S. Nicolas, T. Pierret, S. Rouches, B. Wuyam, J. L. Corhay, J. Guiot, A. van Veen, E. Hardeman, F. Pirson, B. Vosse, L. Conemans, M. Maus, M. Bischoff, M. Rutten, D. Agterhuis, R. Sprooten, Pulm Function Study Investigators

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The interpretation of pulmonary function tests (PFTs) to diagnose respiratory diseases is built on expert opinion that relies on the recognition of patterns and the clinical context for detection of specific diseases. In this study, we aimed to explore the accuracy and interrater variability of pulmonologists when interpreting PFTs compared with artificial intelligence (AI)-based software that was developed and validated in more than 1500 historical patient cases.

120 pulmonologists from 16 European hospitals evaluated 50 cases with PFT and clinical information, resulting in 6000 independent interpretations. The AI software examined the same data. American Thoracic Society/European Respiratory Society guidelines were used as the gold standard for PFT pattern interpretation. The gold standard for diagnosis was derived from clinical history, PFT and all additional tests.

The pattern recognition of PFTs by pulmonologists (senior 73%, junior 27%) matched the guidelines in 74.4 +/- 5.9% of the cases (range 56-88%). The interrater variability of kappa=0.67 pointed to a common agreement. Pulmonologists made correct diagnoses in 44.6 +/- 8.7% of the cases (range 24-62%) with a large interrater variability (kappa=0.35). The AI-based software perfectly matched the PFT pattern interpretations (100%) and assigned a correct diagnosis in 82% of all cases (p

The interpretation of PFTs by pulmonologists leads to marked variations and errors. AI-based software provides more accurate interpretations and may serve as a powerful decision support tool to improve clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1801660
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Respiratory Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019



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