Machine learning for identification of frailty in Canadian primary care practices Academic Article uri icon

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  • IntroductionFrailty is a medical syndrome, commonly affecting people aged 65 years and over and is characterized by a greater risk of adverse outcomes following illness or injury. Electronic medical records contain a large amount of longitudinal data that can be used for primary care research. Machine learning can fully utilize this wide breadth of data for the detection of diseases and syndromes. The creation of a frailty case definition using machine learning may facilitate early intervention, inform advanced screening tests, and allow for surveillance. ObjectivesThe objective of this study was to develop a validated case definition of frailty for the primary care context, using machine learning. MethodsPhysicians participating in the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network across Canada were asked to retrospectively identify the level of frailty present in a sample of their own patients (total n = 5,466), collected from 2015-2019. Frailty levels were dichotomized using a cut-off of 5. Extracted features included previously prescribed medications, billing codes, and other routinely collected primary care data. We used eight supervised machine learning algorithms, with performance assessed using a hold-out test set. A balanced training dataset was also created by oversampling. Sensitivity analyses considered two alternative dichotomization cut-offs. Model performance was evaluated using area under the receiver-operating characteristic curve, F1, accuracy, sensitivity, specificity, negative predictive value and positive predictive value. ResultsThe prevalence of frailty within our sample was 18.4%. Of the eight models developed to identify frail patients, an XGBoost model achieved the highest sensitivity (78.14%) and specificity (74.41%). The balanced training dataset did not improve classification performance. Sensitivity analyses did not show improved performance for cut-offs other than 5. ConclusionSupervised machine learning was able to create well performing classification models for frailty. Future research is needed to assess frailty inter-rater reliability, and link multiple data sources for frailty identification.


  • Aponte-Hao, Sylvia
  • Wong, Sabrina T
  • Thandi, Manpreet
  • Ronksley, Paul
  • McBrien, Kerry
  • Lee, Joon
  • Grandy, Mathew
  • Mangin, Derelie A
  • Katz, Alan
  • Singer, Alexander
  • Manca, Donna
  • Williamson, Tyler

publication date

  • January 2021