Research Article: Predicting all-cause risk of 30-day hospital readmission using artificial neural networks

Date Published: July 14, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Mehdi Jamei, Aleksandr Nisnevich, Everett Wetchler, Sylvia Sudat, Eric Liu, Chris T. Bauch.


Avoidable hospital readmissions not only contribute to the high costs of healthcare in the US, but also have an impact on the quality of care for patients. Large scale adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHR) has created the opportunity to proactively identify patients with high risk of hospital readmission, and apply effective interventions to mitigate that risk. To that end, in the past, numerous machine-learning models have been employed to predict the risk of 30-day hospital readmission. However, the need for an accurate and real-time predictive model, suitable for hospital setting applications still exists. Here, using data from more than 300,000 hospital stays in California from Sutter Health’s EHR system, we built and tested an artificial neural network (NN) model based on Google’s TensorFlow library. Through comparison with other traditional and non-traditional models, we demonstrated that neural networks are great candidates to capture the complexity and interdependency of various data fields in EHRs. LACE, the current industry standard, showed a precision (PPV) of 0.20 in identifying high-risk patients in our database. In contrast, our NN model yielded a PPV of 0.24, which is a 20% improvement over LACE. Additionally, we discussed the predictive power of Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) data, and presented a simple cost analysis to assist hospitalists in implementing helpful and cost-effective post-discharge interventions.

Partial Text

Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, hospital readmission rates have received increasing attention as both a metric for the quality of care and a savings opportunity for the American healthcare system [1]. Per American Hospital Association, the national readmission rate finally fell to 17.5% in 2013 after holding at approximately 19% for several years [2]. Hospital readmissions cost more than $17 billion annually [3]. According to the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee (MedPAC), 76% of hospital readmissions are potentially avoidable [4].

Table 4 compares the performance (assuming a 25% intervention rate) of our models and that of LACE when run on all data with 5-fold validation, using the metrics of precision (PPV), recall (sensitivity), and AUC (c-statistic).

The factors behind hospital readmission are numerous, complex and interdependent. Although some factors, such as prior utilization, comorbidities, and age, are very predictive by themselves, improving the predictive power beyond LACE requires models that capture the interdependencies and non-linearity of those factors more efficiently. Artificial neural networks (ANN), by modeling nonlinear interactions between factors, provide an opportunity to capture those complexities. This nonlinear nature of ANNs enables us to harness more predicitive power from the additional extracted EHR data fields beyond LACE’s four parameters.

In this study, we successfully trained and tested a neural network model to predict the risk of patients’ rehospitalization within 30 days of their discharge. This model has several advantages over LACE, the current industry standard, and other proposed models in the literature including (1) significantly better performance in predicting the readmission risk, (2) being based on real-time data from EHR, and thus applicable at the time discharge from hospital, and (3) being compact and immune to model drift. Furthermore, to determine the classifier’s labeling threshold, we suggested a simple cost-saving optimization analysis.

The neural network model described in the paper, as well as the code to run it on EMR data, is available (under the Apache license) at




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