Introduction: Neural networks are new methodological tools based on nonlinear models. They appear to be better at prediction and classification in biological systems than do traditional strategies such as logistic regression. This paper provides a practical example that contrasts both approaches within the setting of suspected sepsis in the emergency room.
Methods: The study population comprised patients with suspected bacterial infection as their main diagnosis for admission to the emergency room at two University-based hospitals. Mortality within the first 28 days from admission was predicted using logistic regression with the following variables: age, immunosuppressive systemic disease, general systemic disease, Shock Index, temperature, respiratory rate, Glasgow Coma Scale score, leucocyte counts, platelet counts and creatinine. Also, with the same input and output variables, a probabilistic neural network was trained with an adaptive genetic algorithm. The network had three neurone layers: 10 neurones in the input layer, 368 in the hidden layer and two in the output layer. Calibration was measured using the Hosmer-Lemeshow goodness-of-fit test and discrimination was determined using receiver operating characteristic curves.
Results: A total of 533 patients were recruited and overall 28-day mortality was 19%. The factors chosen by logistic regression (with their score in parentheses) were as follows: immunosuppressive systemic disease or general systemic disease (2), respiratory rate 24-33 breaths/min (1), respiratory rate > or = 34 breaths/min (3), Glasgow Come Scale score < or = 12 (3), Shock Index > or = 1.5 (2) and temperature < 38 degrees C (2). The network included all variables and there were no significant differences in predictive ability between the approaches. The areas under the receiver operating characteristic curves were 0.7517 and 0.8782 for the logistic model and the neural network, respectively (P = 0.037).
Conclusion: A predictive model would be an extremely useful tool in the setting of suspected sepsis in the emergency room. It could serve both as a guideline in medical decision-making and as a simple way to select or stratify patients in clinical research. Our proposed model and the specific development method -- either logistic regression or neural networks -- must be evaluated and validated in an independent population.