The Algorithm Charter

The Algorithm Charter is a commitment by government agencies to manage their use of algorithms in a fair, ethical, and transparent way. Agencies who commit to the Charter, are obliged to publicly report any algorithms in use within the agency that present either a High or Moderate risk of an adverse outcome. 

For more information about the Algorithm Charter, visit Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand 2020.

What 'algorithm' means

The Algorithm Charter doesn’t commit to a specific technical definition of the term ‘algorithm’. In the stocktake conducted at the Ministry of Health, we have defined an algorithm as “an automated tool for operational decision making that has little or no oversight by an individual.” This definition has been chosen as it best reflects many of the concerns around the unintended effects of algorithm use which led to the creation of the Algorithm Charter.

Algorithm use in the Ministry of Health

Manatū Hauora The Ministry of Health is committed to transparency and accountability in our decision making, and we were among the original signatories to the Algorithm Charter.

Based on the definition of Algorithm we have used, the Ministry of Health does not currently use algorithms to directly make operational health decisions. The Ministry does use a series of tools to help ensure the consistent prioritising and triaging of patients for treatment, however decisions made are ultimately the responsibility of clinicians. Because of this approach, the risk of adverse or unintended outcomes of these tools is low.

Examples of tools used to support decision

Cardiovascular Disease Risk Assessment tool

Clinicians use this tool to determine the level of intervention required with an individual in relation to their risk of cardiovascular disease risk. While the tool allows scores to be able to be allocated to an individual’s experiences, it does not directly determine an operational action – something that is determined directly by the clinician.

National Priority Interface

Clinicians use the National Priority Interface to take a standard approach to the prioritisation of patients for publicly funded elective surgeries. The characteristics of an individual presenting for elective surgery are reviewed, and scored by Clinicians against a consistent scale. If a patient scores above a particular level, they are prioritised for elective surgery by the relevant District Health Board.

Actions to be taken by the Ministry of Health

While the stocktake we have conducted has found there are no algorithms in use at the Ministry at the moment, there are significant opportunities in health care in the safe usage of algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

As kaitiaki of the health system, the Ministry is focussed on ensuring that high quality, effective and safe tools are used across the system to enable quality health care. As part of our role, the Ministry published guidance to the sector on the safe creation of algorithms. Beyond the review of the Ministry use of algorithms, this guide is a significant contribution from the Ministry to enable safe algorithm use across the health sector into the future.

As part of our ongoing work, the Ministry of Health will embed the principles of the Algorithm Charter into the development and maintenance of any algorithms we produce. We expect to review our processes every 12 months, and update our reporting accordingly.

Contact

Any questions about the Algorithm Charter and how it has been implemented at Manatū Hauora should be sent to [email protected].

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