I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Abramoff, MD, PhD, president and director of IDx. We are the first-ever system to get FDA approval that makes a clinical decision without physician oversight. To date that is our major accomplishment.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I am physician, an ophthalmologist, retinal specialist and surgeon with deep experience in IT, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Twenty-two years ago, I was a resident and I noticed that many patients had diabetic retinopathy. They often came in too late and had irreversible damage that we couldn’t treat. I decided there had to be a better way to diagnose them. That began a 22-year journey that involved moving to Iowa and founding IDx and realizing that autonomous AI is the best way to reduce the cost of healthcare.

DR was the lowest-hanging fruit because it is the most preventable cause of blindness with the most agreement in the scientific and medical communities in terms of how to treat it. We then focused on how to make autonomous AI safe and effective. It took a long time including a big clinical trial last year, and from there it’s moved very, very rapidly because many people realize the great potential for AI in healthcare.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

It’s the same story, really. I thought I could change the world by doing a scientific study that an algorithmic can detect DR. Then nothing happened. I thought I needed to publish many more studies so I did about 150 of them. Nothing changed. I thought maybe if I had a patent it would help, so I started inventing things related to autonomous AI and now I have about 16 issued patents, 22 if you count patents pending. I kept hammering on this and maybe a few more people were listening but nothing was changing for patients, and that’s why I do this: I want to change the lives of patients.