Autoencoder as a new method for maintaining data privacy while analyzing videos of patients with motor dysfunction: Proof-of-concept study

Marcus D'Souza, Caspar E.P. van Munster, Jonas F. Dorn, Alexis Dorier, Christian P. Kamm, Saskia Steinheimer, Frank Dahlke, Bernard M.J. Uitdehaag, Ludwig Kappos, Matthew Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In chronic neurological diseases, especially in multiple sclerosis (MS), clinical assessment of motor dysfunction is crucial to monitor the disease in patients. Traditional scales are not sensitive enough to detect slight changes. Video recordings of patient performance are more accurate and increase the reliability of severity ratings. When these recordings are automated, quantitative disability assessments by machine learning algorithms can be created. Creation of these algorithms involves non–health care professionals, which is a challenge for maintaining data privacy. However, autoencoders can address this issue. Objective: The aim of this proof-of-concept study was to test whether coded frame vectors of autoencoders contain relevant information for analyzing videos of the motor performance of patients with MS. Methods: In this study, 20 pre-rated videos of patients performing the finger-to-nose test were recorded. An autoencoder created encoded frame vectors from the original videos and decoded the videos again. The original and decoded videos were shown to 10 neurologists at an academic MS center in Basel, Switzerland. The neurologists tested whether the 200 videos were human-readable after decoding and rated the severity grade of each original and decoded video according to the Neurostatus-Expanded Disability Status Scale definitions of limb ataxia. Furthermore, the neurologists tested whether ratings were equivalent between the original and decoded videos. Results: In total, 172 of 200 (86.0%) videos were of sufficient quality to be ratable. The intrarater agreement between the original and decoded videos was 0.317 (Cohen weighted kappa). The average difference in the ratings between the original and decoded videos was 0.26, in which the original videos were rated as more severe. The interrater agreement between the original videos was 0.459 and that between the decoded videos was 0.302. The agreement was higher when no deficits or very severe deficits were present. Conclusions: The vast majority of videos (172/200, 86.0%) decoded by the autoencoder contained clinically relevant information and had fair intrarater agreement with the original videos. Autoencoders are a potential method for enabling the use of patient videos while preserving data privacy, especially when non–health-care professionals are involved.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere16669
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • Autoencoder
  • Deep neuronal network
  • Machine learning algorithms
  • Neurostatus-EDSS
  • Video-rating

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