Is Deep Learning On Par with Human Observers for Detection of Radiographically Visible and Occult Fractures of the Scaphoid?

David W.G. Langerhuizen, Anne Eva J. Bulstra, Stein J. Janssen, David Ring, Gino M.M.J. Kerkhoffs, Ruurd L. Jaarsma, Job N. Doornberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Preliminary experience suggests that deep learning algorithms are nearly as good as humans in detecting common, displaced, and relatively obvious fractures (such as, distal radius or hip fractures). However, it is not known whether this also is true for subtle or relatively nondisplaced fractures that are often difficult to see on radiographs, such as scaphoid fractures. QUESTIONS/PURPOSES: (1) What is the diagnostic accuracy, sensitivity, and specificity of a deep learning algorithm in detecting radiographically visible and occult scaphoid fractures using four radiographic imaging views? (2) Does adding patient demographic (age and sex) information improve the diagnostic performance of the deep learning algorithm? (3) Are orthopaedic surgeons better at diagnostic accuracy, sensitivity, and specificity compared with deep learning? (4) What is the interobserver reliability among five human observers and between human consensus and deep learning algorithm? METHODS: We retrospectively searched the picture archiving and communication system (PACS) to identify 300 patients with a radiographic scaphoid series, until we had 150 fractures (127 visible on radiographs and 23 only visible on MRI) and 150 non-fractures with a corresponding CT or MRI as the reference standard for fracture diagnosis. At our institution, MRIs are usually ordered for patients with scaphoid tenderness and normal radiographs, and a CT with radiographically visible scaphoid fracture. We used a deep learning algorithm (a convolutional neural network [CNN]) for automated fracture detection on radiographs. Deep learning, an advanced subset of artificial intelligence, combines artificial neuronal layers to resemble a neuron cell. CNNs-essentially deep learning algorithms resembling interconnected neurons in the human brain-are most commonly used for image analysis. Area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) was used to evaluate the algorithm's diagnostic performance. An AUC of 1.0 would indicate perfect prediction, whereas 0.5 would indicate that a prediction is no better than a flip of a coin. The probability of a scaphoid fracture generated by the CNN, sex, and age were included in a multivariable logistic regression to determine whether this would improve the algorithm's diagnostic performance. Diagnostic performance characteristics (accuracy, sensitivity, and specificity) and reliability (kappa statistic) were calculated for the CNN and for the five orthopaedic surgeon observers in our study. RESULTS: The algorithm had an AUC of 0.77 (95% CI 0.66 to 0.85), 72% accuracy (95% CI 60% to 84%), 84% sensitivity (95% CI 0.74 to 0.94), and 60% specificity (95% CI 0.46 to 0.74). Adding age and sex did not improve diagnostic performance (AUC 0.81 [95% CI 0.73 to 0.89]). Orthopaedic surgeons had better specificity (0.93 [95% CI 0.93 to 0.99]; p < 0.01), while accuracy (84% [95% CI 81% to 88%]) and sensitivity (0.76 [95% CI 0.70 to 0.82]; p = 0.29) did not differ between the algorithm and human observers. Although the CNN was less specific in diagnosing relatively obvious fractures, it detected five of six occult scaphoid fractures that were missed by all human observers. The interobserver reliability among the five surgeons was substantial (Fleiss' kappa = 0.74 [95% CI 0.66 to 0.83]), but the reliability between the algorithm and human observers was only fair (Cohen's kappa = 0.34 [95% CI 0.17 to 0.50]). CONCLUSIONS: Initial experience with our deep learning algorithm suggests that it has trouble identifying scaphoid fractures that are obvious to human observers. Thirteen false positive suggestions were made by the CNN, which were correctly detected by the five surgeons. Research with larger datasets-preferably also including information from physical examination-or further algorithm refinement is merited. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level III, diagnostic study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2653-2659
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Orthopaedics and Related Research
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • deep learning algorithms
  • detection of fractures
  • subtle fractures
  • relatively nondisplaced fractures
  • scaphoid fractures
  • Diagnostic accuracy
  • diagnostic sensitivity
  • diagnostic specificity
  • picture archiving and communication system (PACS)


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