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In Diagnostic and prognostic research

Background : The primary objective of this review is to assess the accuracy of machine learning methods in their application of triaging the acuity of patients presenting in the Emergency Care System (ECS). The population are patients that have contacted the ambulance service or turned up at the Emergency Department. The index test is a machine-learning algorithm that aims to stratify the acuity of incoming patients at initial triage. This is in comparison to either an existing decision support tool, clinical opinion or in the absence of these, no comparator. The outcome of this review is the calibration, discrimination and classification statistics.

Methods : Only derivation studies (with or without internal validation) were included. MEDLINE, CINAHL, PubMed and the grey literature were searched on the 14th December 2019. Risk of bias was assessed using the PROBAST tool and data was extracted using the CHARMS checklist. Discrimination (C-statistic) was a commonly reported model performance measure and therefore these statistics were represented as a range within each machine learning method. The majority of studies had poorly reported outcomes and thus a narrative synthesis of results was performed.

Results : There was a total of 92 models (from 25 studies) included in the review. There were two main triage outcomes: hospitalisation (56 models), and critical care need (25 models). For hospitalisation, neural networks and tree-based methods both had a median C-statistic of 0.81 (IQR 0.80-0.84, 0.79-0.82). Logistic regression had a median C-statistic of 0.80 (0.74-0.83). For critical care need, neural networks had a median C-statistic of 0.89 (0.86-0.91), tree based 0.85 (0.84-0.88), and logistic regression 0.83 (0.79-0.84).

Conclusions : Machine-learning methods appear accurate in triaging undifferentiated patients entering the Emergency Care System. There was no clear benefit of using one technique over another; however, models derived by logistic regression were more transparent in reporting model performance. Future studies should adhere to reporting guidelines and use these at the protocol design stage.

Registration and funding : This systematic review is registered on the International prospective register of systematic reviews (PROSPERO) and can be accessed online at the following URL: study was funded by the NIHR as part of a Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship.

Miles Jamie, Turner Janette, Jacques Richard, Williams Julia, Mason Suzanne


Ambulance service, Emergency department, Machine learning, Patients, Triage