Assessing optimal methods for transferring machine learning models to low-volume and imbalanced clinical datasets: experiences from predicting outcomes of Danish trauma patients

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Introduction: Accurately predicting patient outcomes is crucial for improving healthcare delivery, but large-scale risk prediction models are often developed and tested on specific datasets where clinical parameters and outcomes may not fully reflect local clinical settings. Where this is the case, whether to opt for de-novo training of prediction models on local datasets, direct porting of externally trained models, or a transfer learning approach is not well studied, and constitutes the focus of this study. Using the clinical challenge of predicting mortality and hospital length of stay on a Danish trauma dataset, we hypothesized that a transfer learning approach of models trained on large external datasets would provide optimal prediction results compared to de-novo training on sparse but local datasets or directly porting externally trained models. Methods: Using an external dataset of trauma patients from the US Trauma Quality Improvement Program (TQIP) and a local dataset aggregated from the Danish Trauma Database (DTD) enriched with Electronic Health Record data, we tested a range of model-level approaches focused on predicting trauma mortality and hospital length of stay on DTD data. Modeling approaches included de-novo training of models on DTD data, direct porting of models trained on TQIP data to the DTD, and a transfer learning approach by training a model on TQIP data with subsequent transfer and retraining on DTD data. Furthermore, data-level approaches, including mixed dataset training and methods countering imbalanced outcomes (e.g., low mortality rates), were also tested. Results: Using a neural network trained on a mixed dataset consisting of a subset of TQIP and DTD, with class weighting and transfer learning (retraining on DTD), we achieved excellent results in predicting mortality, with a ROC-AUC of 0.988 and an F2-score of 0.866. The best-performing models for predicting long-term hospitalization were trained only on local data, achieving an ROC-AUC of 0.890 and an F1-score of 0.897, although only marginally better than alternative approaches. Conclusion: Our results suggest that when assessing the optimal modeling approach, it is important to have domain knowledge of how incidence rates and workflows compare between hospital systems and datasets where models are trained. Including data from other health-care systems is particularly beneficial when outcomes are suffering from class imbalance and low incidence. Scenarios where outcomes are not directly comparable are best addressed through either de-novo local training or a transfer learning approach.

TidsskriftFrontiers in Digital Health
StatusUdgivet - 2023

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
The study was supported by grants from the Danish Victims Foundation (Grant #21-610-00127) and the Novo Nordisk Foundation (Grant #NNF19OC0055183) from the Novo Nordisk Foundation to MS. The funder played no role in study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation of data, or the writing of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
2023 Millarch, Bonde, Bonde, Klein, Folke, Rudolph and Sillesen.

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