Jump to Content

Stephen Pfohl

Stephen Pfohl is a research scientist in Responsible AI at Google Research on the Context in AI Research (CAIR) team. He conducts research on the design on the machine learning models that are fair, robust, and transparent, primarily for use in healthcare contexts. Prior to joining Google, he completed his PhD in Biomedical Informatics at Stanford University.
Authored Publications
Google Publications
Other Publications
Sort By
  • Title
  • Title, descending
  • Year
  • Year, descending
    Preview abstract Advances in machine learning for health care have brought concerns about bias from the research community; specifically, the introduction, perpetuation, or exacerbation of care disparities. Reinforcing these concerns is the finding that medical images often reveal signals about sensitive attributes in ways that are hard to pinpoint by both algorithms and people. This finding raises a question about how to best design general purpose pretrained embeddings (GPPEs, defined as embeddings meant to support a broad array of use cases) for building downstream models that are free from particular types of bias. The downstream model should be carefully evaluated for bias, and audited and improved as appropriate. However, in our view, well intentioned attempts to prevent the upstream components—GPPEs—from learning sensitive attributes can have unintended consequences on the downstream models. Despite producing a veneer of technical neutrality, the resultant end-to-end system might still be biased or poorly performing. We present reasons, by building on previously published data, to support the reasoning that GPPEs should ideally contain as much information as the original data contain, and highlight the perils of trying to remove sensitive attributes from a GPPE. We also emphasise that downstream prediction models trained for specific tasks and settings, whether developed using GPPEs or not, should be carefully designed and evaluated to avoid bias that makes models vulnerable to issues such as distributional shift. These evaluations should be done by a diverse team, including social scientists, on a diverse cohort representing the full breadth of the patient population for which the final model is intended. View details
    Preview abstract Large language models (LLMs) hold immense promise to serve complex health information needs but also have the potential to introduce harm and exacerbate health disparities. Reliably evaluating equity-related model failures is a critical step toward developing systems that promote health equity. In this work, we present resources and methodologies for surfacing biases with potential to precipitate equity-related harms in long-form, LLM-generated answers to medical questions and then conduct an empirical case study with Med-PaLM 2, resulting in the largest human evaluation study in this area to date. Our contributions include a multifactorial framework for human assessment of LLM-generated answers for biases, and EquityMedQA, a collection of seven newly-released datasets comprising both manually-curated and LLM-generated questions enriched for adversarial queries. Both our human assessment framework and dataset design process are grounded in an iterative participatory approach and review of possible biases in Med-PaLM 2 answers to adversarial queries. Through our empirical study, we find that the use of a collection of datasets curated through a variety of methodologies, coupled with a thorough evaluation protocol that leverages multiple assessment rubric designs and diverse rater groups, surfaces biases that may be missed via narrower evaluation approaches. Our experience underscores the importance of using diverse assessment methodologies and involving raters of varying backgrounds and expertise. We emphasize that while our framework can identify specific forms of bias, it is not sufficient to holistically assess whether the deployment of an AI system promotes equitable health outcomes. We hope the broader community leverages and builds on these tools and methods towards realizing a shared goal of LLMs that promote accessible and equitable healthcare for all. View details
    Health equity assessment of machine learning performance (HEAL): a framework and dermatology AI model case study
    Terry Spitz
    Malcolm Chelliah
    Heather Cole-Lewis
    Stephanie Farquhar
    Qinghan Xue
    Jenna Lester
    Cían Hughes
    Patricia Strachan
    Fraser Tan
    Peggy Bui
    Craig Mermel
    Lily Peng
    Sunny Virmani
    Ivor Horn
    Cameron Chen
    The Lancet eClinicalMedicine (2024)
    Preview abstract Background Artificial intelligence (AI) has repeatedly been shown to encode historical inequities in healthcare. We aimed to develop a framework to quantitatively assess the performance equity of health AI technologies and to illustrate its utility via a case study. Methods Here, we propose a methodology to assess whether health AI technologies prioritise performance for patient populations experiencing worse outcomes, that is complementary to existing fairness metrics. We developed the Health Equity Assessment of machine Learning performance (HEAL) framework designed to quantitatively assess the performance equity of health AI technologies via a four-step interdisciplinary process to understand and quantify domain-specific criteria, and the resulting HEAL metric. As an illustrative case study (analysis conducted between October 2022 and January 2023), we applied the HEAL framework to a dermatology AI model. A set of 5420 teledermatology cases (store-and-forward cases from patients of 20 years or older, submitted from primary care providers in the USA and skin cancer clinics in Australia), enriched for diversity in age, sex and race/ethnicity, was used to retrospectively evaluate the AI model's HEAL metric, defined as the likelihood that the AI model performs better for subpopulations with worse average health outcomes as compared to others. The likelihood that AI performance was anticorrelated to pre-existing health outcomes was estimated using bootstrap methods as the probability that the negated Spearman's rank correlation coefficient (i.e., “R”) was greater than zero. Positive values of R suggest that subpopulations with poorer health outcomes have better AI model performance. Thus, the HEAL metric, defined as p (R >0), measures how likely the AI technology is to prioritise performance for subpopulations with worse average health outcomes as compared to others (presented as a percentage below). Health outcomes were quantified as disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) when grouping by sex and age, and years of life lost (YLLs) when grouping by race/ethnicity. AI performance was measured as top-3 agreement with the reference diagnosis from a panel of 3 dermatologists per case. Findings Across all dermatologic conditions, the HEAL metric was 80.5% for prioritizing AI performance of racial/ethnic subpopulations based on YLLs, and 92.1% and 0.0% respectively for prioritizing AI performance of sex and age subpopulations based on DALYs. Certain dermatologic conditions were significantly associated with greater AI model performance compared to a reference category of less common conditions. For skin cancer conditions, the HEAL metric was 73.8% for prioritizing AI performance of age subpopulations based on DALYs. Interpretation Analysis using the proposed HEAL framework showed that the dermatology AI model prioritised performance for race/ethnicity, sex (all conditions) and age (cancer conditions) subpopulations with respect to pre-existing health disparities. More work is needed to investigate ways of promoting equitable AI performance across age for non-cancer conditions and to better understand how AI models can contribute towards improving equity in health outcomes. View details
    Large Language Models Encode Clinical Knowledge
    Karan Singhal
    Sara Mahdavi
    Jason Wei
    Hyung Won Chung
    Nathan Scales
    Ajay Tanwani
    Heather Cole-Lewis
    Perry Payne
    Martin Seneviratne
    Paul Gamble
    Abubakr Abdelrazig Hassan Babiker
    Nathanael Schaerli
    Aakanksha Chowdhery
    Philip Mansfield
    Dina Demner-Fushman
    Katherine Chou
    Juraj Gottweis
    Nenad Tomašev
    Alvin Rajkomar
    Joelle Barral
    Nature (2023)
    Preview abstract Large language models (LLMs) have demonstrated impressive capabilities, but the bar for clinical applications is high. Attempts to assess the clinical knowledge of models typically rely on automated evaluations based on limited benchmarks. Here, to address these limitations, we present MultiMedQA, a benchmark combining six existing medical question answering datasets spanning professional medicine, research and consumer queries and a new dataset of medical questions searched online, HealthSearchQA. We propose a human evaluation framework for model answers along multiple axes including factuality, comprehension, reasoning, possible harm and bias. In addition, we evaluate Pathways Language Model (PaLM, a 540-billion parameter LLM) and its instruction-tuned variant, Flan-PaLM on MultiMedQA. Using a combination of prompting strategies, Flan-PaLM achieves state-of-the-art accuracy on every MultiMedQA multiple-choice dataset (MedQA, MedMCQA, PubMedQA and Measuring Massive Multitask Language Understanding (MMLU) clinical topics), including 67.6% accuracy on MedQA (US Medical Licensing Exam-style questions), surpassing the prior state of the art by more than 17%. However, human evaluation reveals key gaps. To resolve this, we introduce instruction prompt tuning, a parameter-efficient approach for aligning LLMs to new domains using a few exemplars. The resulting model, Med-PaLM, performs encouragingly, but remains inferior to clinicians. We show that comprehension, knowledge recall and reasoning improve with model scale and instruction prompt tuning, suggesting the potential utility of LLMs in medicine. Our human evaluations reveal limitations of today’s models, reinforcing the importance of both evaluation frameworks and method development in creating safe, helpful LLMs for clinical applications. View details
    Preview abstract Recent artificial intelligence (AI) systems have reached milestones in "grand challenges" ranging from Go to protein-folding. The capability to retrieve medical knowledge, reason over it, and answer medical questions comparably to physicians has long been viewed as one such grand challenge. Large language models (LLMs) have catalyzed significant progress in medical question answering; Med-PaLM was the first model to exceed a "passing" score in US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) style questions with a score of 67.2% on the MedQA dataset. However, this and other prior work suggested significant room for improvement, especially when models' answers were compared to clinicians' answers. Here we present Med-PaLM 2, which bridges these gaps by leveraging a combination of base LLM improvements (PaLM 2), medical domain finetuning, and prompting strategies including a novel ensemble refinement approach. Med-PaLM 2 scored up to 86.5% on the MedQA dataset, improving upon Med-PaLM by over 19% and setting a new state-of-the-art. We also observed performance approaching or exceeding state-of-the-art across MedMCQA, PubMedQA, and MMLU clinical topics datasets. We performed detailed human evaluations on long-form questions along multiple axes relevant to clinical applications. In pairwise comparative ranking of 1066 consumer medical questions, physicians preferred Med-PaLM 2 answers to those produced by physicians on eight of nine axes pertaining to clinical utility (p < 0.001). We also observed significant improvements compared to Med-PaLM on every evaluation axis (p < 0.001) on newly introduced datasets of 240 long-form "adversarial" questions to probe LLM limitations. While further studies are necessary to validate the efficacy of these models in real-world settings, these results highlight rapid progress towards physician-level performance in medical question answering. View details
    No Results Found