Predicting unplanned medical visits among patients with diabetes: translation from machine learning to clinical implementation

Arielle Selya, Drake Anshutz, Emily Griese, Tess L. Weber, Benson Hsu, Cheryl Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Diabetes is a medical and economic burden in the United States. In this study, a machine learning predictive model was developed to predict unplanned medical visits among patients with diabetes, and findings were used to design a clinical intervention in the sponsoring healthcare organization. This study presents a case study of how predictive analytics can inform clinical actions, and describes practical factors that must be incorporated in order to translate research into clinical practice. Methods: Data were drawn from electronic medical records (EMRs) from a large healthcare organization in the Northern Plains region of the US, from adult (≥ 18 years old) patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who received care at least once during the 3-year period. A variety of machine-learning classification models were run using standard EMR variables as predictors (age, body mass index (BMI), systolic blood pressure (BP), diastolic BP, low-density lipoprotein, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), glycohemoglobin (A1C), smoking status, number of diagnoses and number of prescriptions). The best-performing model after cross-validation testing was analyzed to identify strongest predictors. Results: The best-performing model was a linear-basis support vector machine, which achieved a balanced accuracy (average of sensitivity and specificity) of 65.7%. This model outperformed a conventional logistic regression by 0.4 percentage points. A sensitivity analysis identified BP and HDL as the strongest predictors, such that disrupting these variables with random noise decreased the model’s overall balanced accuracy by 1.3 and 1.4 percentage points, respectively. These recommendations, along with stakeholder engagement, behavioral economics strategies, and implementation science principles helped to inform the design of a clinical intervention targeting behavioral changes. Conclusion: Our machine-learning predictive model more accurately predicted unplanned medical visits among patients with diabetes, relative to conventional models. Post-hoc analysis of the model was used for hypothesis generation, namely that HDL and BP are the strongest contributors to unplanned medical visits among patients with diabetes. These findings were translated into a clinical intervention now being piloted at the sponsoring healthcare organization. In this way, this predictive model can be used in moving from prediction to implementation and improved diabetes care management in clinical settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Diabetes
  • Machine learning
  • Predictive model
  • Unplanned medical visits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health Informatics
  • Computer Science Applications


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