Research: A digital mask to safeguard patient privacy

Yahan Yang, Junfeng Lyu, Ruixin Wang, Quan Wen, Lanqin Zhao, Wenben Chen, Shaowei Bi, Jie Meng, Keli Mao, Yu Xiao, Yingying Liang, Danqi Zeng, Zijing Du, Yuxuan Wu, Tingxin Cui, Lixue Liu, Wai Cheng Iao, Xiaoyan Li, Carol Y. Cheung, Jianhua Zhou, Youjin Hu, Lai Wei, Iat Fan Lai, Xinping Yu, …Haotian Lin

Nature Medicine, volume 28, pages1883–1892 (2022)

Abstract
The storage of facial images in medical records poses privacy risks due to the sensitive nature of the personal biometric information that can be extracted from such images. To minimize these risks, we developed a new technology, called the digital mask (DM), which is based on three-dimensional reconstruction and deep-learning algorithms to irreversibly erase identifiable features, while retaining disease-relevant features needed for diagnosis. In a prospective clinical study to evaluate the technology for diagnosis of ocular conditions, we found very high diagnostic consistency between the use of original and reconstructed facial videos (κ ≥ 0.845 for strabismus, ptosis and nystagmus, and κ = 0.801 for thyroid-associated orbitopathy) and comparable diagnostic accuracy (P ≥ 0.131 for all ocular conditions tested) was observed. Identity removal validation using multiple-choice questions showed that compared to image cropping, the DM could much more effectively remove identity attributes from facial images. We further confirmed the ability of the DM to evade recognition systems using artificial intelligence-powered re-identification algorithms. Moreover, use of the DM increased the willingness of patients with ocular conditions to provide their facial images as health information during medical treatment. These results indicate the potential of the DM algorithm to protect

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