DOI: 10.1093/jamia/ocad238 ISSN: 1067-5027

Academic machine learning researchers’ ethical perspectives on algorithm development for health care: a qualitative study

Max Kasun, Katie Ryan, Jodi Paik, Kyle Lane-McKinley, Laura Bodin Dunn, Laura Weiss Roberts, Jane Paik Kim
  • Health Informatics



We set out to describe academic machine learning (ML) researchers’ ethical considerations regarding the development of ML tools intended for use in clinical care.

Materials and Methods

We conducted in-depth, semistructured interviews with a sample of ML researchers in medicine (N = 10) as part of a larger study investigating stakeholders’ ethical considerations in the translation of ML tools in medicine. We used a qualitative descriptive design, applying conventional qualitative content analysis in order to allow participant perspectives to emerge directly from the data.


Every participant viewed their algorithm development work as holding ethical significance. While participants shared positive attitudes toward continued ML innovation, they described concerns related to data sampling and labeling (eg, limitations to mitigating bias; ensuring the validity and integrity of data), and algorithm training and testing (eg, selecting quantitative targets; assessing reproducibility). Participants perceived a need to increase interdisciplinary training across stakeholders and to envision more coordinated and embedded approaches to addressing ethics issues.

Discussion and Conclusion

Participants described key areas where increased support for ethics may be needed; technical challenges affecting clinical acceptability; and standards related to scientific integrity, beneficence, and justice that may be higher in medicine compared to other industries engaged in ML innovation. Our results help shed light on the perspectives of ML researchers in medicine regarding the range of ethical issues they encounter or anticipate in their work, including areas where more attention may be needed to support the successful development and integration of medical ML tools.

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