Validation of an algorithm based on administrative data to detect new onset of atrial fibrillation after cardiac surgery

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2020 Apr 5;20(1):75. doi: 10.1186/s12874-020-00953-9.


Introduction: Postoperative atrial fibrillation (POAF) is a frequent complication of cardiac surgery associated with important morbidity, mortality, and costs. To assess the effectiveness of preventive interventions, an important prerequisite is to have access to accurate measures of POAF incidence. The aim of this study was to develop and validate such a measure.

Methods: A validation study was conducted at two large Canadian university health centers. First, a random sample of 976 (10.4%) patients who had cardiac surgery at these sites between 2010 and 2016 was generated. Then, a reference standard assessment of their medical records was performed to determine their true POAF status on discharge (positive/negative). The accuracy of various algorithms combining diagnostic and procedure codes from: 1) the current hospitalization, and 2) hospitalizations up to 6 years before the current hospitalization was assessed in comparison with the reference standard. Overall and site-specific estimates of sensitivity, specificity, positive (PPV), and negative (NPV) predictive values were generated, along with their 95%CIs.

Results: Upon manual review, 324 (33.2%) patients were POAF-positive. Our best-performing algorithm combining data from both sites used a look-back window of 6 years to exclude patients previously known for AF. This algorithm achieved 70.4% sensitivity (95%CI: 65.1-75.3), 86.0% specificity (95%CI: 83.1-88.6), 71.5% PPV (95%CI: 66.2-76.4), and 85.4% NPV (95%CI: 82.5-88.0). However, significant site-specific differences in sensitivity and NPV were observed.

Conclusion: An algorithm based on administrative data can identify POAF patients with moderate accuracy. However, site-specific variations in coding practices have significant impact on accuracy.

Keywords: Administrative databases; Canadian version of the international classification of diseases.; Cardiac surgery; Postoperative atrial fibrillation; Validation study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Atrial Fibrillation* / diagnosis
  • Atrial Fibrillation* / epidemiology
  • Atrial Fibrillation* / etiology
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Patient Discharge
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnosis
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology