Introduction: Most risk assessment tools assume that the impact of risk factors is linear and cumulative. Using novel machine-learning techniques, we sought to design an interactive, nonlinear risk calculator for Emergency Surgery (ES).
Methods: All ES patients in the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (ACS-NSQIP) 2007 to 2013 database were included (derivation cohort). Optimal Classification Trees (OCT) were leveraged to train machine-learning algorithms to predict postoperative mortality, morbidity, and 18 specific complications (eg, sepsis, surgical site infection). Unlike classic heuristics (eg, logistic regression), OCT is adaptive and reboots itself with each variable, thus accounting for nonlinear interactions among variables. An application [Predictive OpTimal Trees in Emergency Surgery Risk (POTTER)] was then designed as the algorithms' interactive and user-friendly interface. POTTER performance was measured (c-statistic) using the 2014 ACS-NSQIP database (validation cohort) and compared with the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), Emergency Surgery Score (ESS), and ACS-NSQIP calculators' performance.
Results: Based on 382,960 ES patients, comprehensive decision-making algorithms were derived, and POTTER was created where the provider's answer to a question interactively dictates the subsequent question. For any specific patient, the number of questions needed to predict mortality ranged from 4 to 11. The mortality c-statistic was 0.9162, higher than ASA (0.8743), ESS (0.8910), and ACS (0.8975). The morbidity c-statistics was similarly the highest (0.8414).
Conclusion: POTTER is a highly accurate and user-friendly ES risk calculator with the potential to continuously improve accuracy with ongoing machine-learning. POTTER might prove useful as a tool for bedside preoperative counseling of ES patients and families.