Do comprehensive deep learning algorithms suffer from hidden stratification? A retrospective study on pneumothorax detection in chest radiography

December - 08 - 2021

BMJ Open. First published December 7, 2021

Authors Jarrel Seah, Cyril Tang, Quinlan D Buchlak, Michael Robert Milne, Xavier Holt, Hassan Ahmad, John Lambert, Nazanin Esmaili, Luke Oakden-Rayner Peter Brotchie, Catherine M Jones

Objectives To evaluate the ability of a commercially available comprehensive chest radiography deep convolutional neural network (DCNN) to detect simple and tension pneumothorax, as stratified by the following subgroups: the presence of an intercostal drain; rib, clavicular, scapular or humeral fractures or rib resections; subcutaneous emphysema and erect versus non-erect positioning. The hypothesis was that performance would not differ significantly in each of these subgroups when compared with the overall test dataset.

Design A retrospective case–control study was undertaken.

Setting Community radiology clinics and hospitals in Australia and the USA.

Participants A test dataset of 2557 chest radiography studies was ground-truthed by three subspecialty thoracic radiologists for the presence of simple or tension pneumothorax as well as each subgroup other than positioning. Radiograph positioning was derived from radiographer annotations on the images.

Outcome measures DCNN performance for detecting simple and tension pneumothorax was evaluated over the entire test set, as well as within each subgroup, using the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC). A difference in AUC of more than 0.05 was considered clinically significant.

Results When compared with the overall test set, performance of the DCNN for detecting simple and tension pneumothorax was statistically non-inferior in all subgroups. The DCNN had an AUC of 0.981 (0.976–0.986) for detecting simple pneumothorax and 0.997 (0.995–0.999) for detecting tension pneumothorax.

Conclusions Hidden stratification has significant implications for potential failures of deep learning when applied in clinical practice. This study demonstrated that a comprehensively trained DCNN can be resilient to hidden stratification in several clinically meaningful subgroups in detecting pneumothorax.


Study reuse is allowed pursuant to the terms of the BMJ Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) licence. 


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