Machine-Learning vs. Expert-Opinion Driven Logistic Regression Modelling for Predicting 30-Day Unplanned Rehospitalisation in Preterm Babies: A Prospective, Population-Based Study (EPIPAGE 2).


Introduction: Preterm babies are a vulnerable population that experience significant short and long-term morbidity. Rehospitalisations constitute an important, potentially modifiable adverse event in this population. Improving the ability of clinicians to identify those patients at the greatest risk of rehospitalisation has the potential to improve outcomes and reduce costs. Machine-learning algorithms can provide potentially advantageous methods of prediction compared to conventional approaches like logistic regression. 

Objective: To compare two machine-learning methods (least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) and random forest) to expert-opinion driven logistic regression modelling for predicting unplanned rehospitalisation within 30 days in a large French cohort of preterm babies. 

Design, Setting and Participants: This study used data derived exclusively from the population-based prospective cohort study of French preterm babies, EPIPAGE 2. Only those babies discharged home alive and whose parents completed the 1-year survey were eligible for inclusion in our study. All predictive models used a binary outcome, denoting a baby’s status for an unplanned rehospitalisation within 30 days of discharge. Predictors included those quantifying clinical, treatment, maternal and socio-demographic factors. The predictive abilities of models constructed using LASSO and random forest algorithms were compared with a traditional logistic regression model. The logistic regression model comprised 10 predictors, selected by expert clinicians, while the LASSO and random forest included 75 predictors. Performance measures were derived using 10-fold cross-validation. Performance was quantified using area under the receiver operator characteristic curve, sensitivity, specificity, Tjur’s coefficient of determination and calibration measures. 

Results: The rate of 30-day unplanned rehospitalisation in the eligible population used to construct the models was 9.1% (95% CI 8.2-10.1) (350/3,841). The random forest model demonstrated both an improved AUROC (0.65; 95% CI 0.59-0.7; p = 0.03) and specificity vs. logistic regression (AUROC 0.57; 95% CI 0.51-0.62, p = 0.04). The LASSO performed similarly (AUROC 0.59; 95% CI 0.53-0.65; p = 0.68) to logistic regression. 

Conclusions: Compared to an expert-specified logistic regression model, random forest offered improved prediction of 30-day unplanned rehospitalisation in preterm babies. However, all models offered relatively low levels of predictive ability, regardless of modelling method.