Development of machine learning and natural language processing algorithms for preoperative prediction and automated identification of intraoperative vascular injury in anterior lumbar spine surgery

Spine J. 2021 Oct;21(10):1635-1642. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2020.04.001. Epub 2020 Apr 12.


Background: Intraoperative vascular injury (VI) may be an unavoidable complication of anterior lumbar spine surgery; however, vascular injury has implications for quality and safety reporting as this intraoperative complication may result in serious bleeding, thrombosis, and postoperative stricture.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to (1) develop machine learning algorithms for preoperative prediction of VI and (2) develop natural language processing (NLP) algorithms for automated surveillance of intraoperative VI from free-text operative notes.

Patient sample: Adult patients, 18 years or age or older, undergoing anterior lumbar spine surgery at two academic and three community medical centers were included in this analysis.

Outcome measures: The primary outcome was unintended VI during anterior lumbar spine surgery.

Methods: Manual review of free-text operative notes was used to identify patients who had unintended VI. The available population was split into training and testing cohorts. Five machine learning algorithms were developed for preoperative prediction of VI. An NLP algorithm was trained for automated detection of intraoperative VI from free-text operative notes. Performance of the NLP algorithm was compared to current procedural terminology and international classification of diseases codes.

Results: In all, 1035 patients underwent anterior lumbar spine surgery and the rate of intraoperative VI was 7.2% (n=75). Variables used for preoperative prediction of VI were age, male sex, body mass index, diabetes, L4-L5 exposure, and surgery for infection (discitis, osteomyelitis). The best performing machine learning algorithm achieved c-statistic of 0.73 for preoperative prediction of VI ( For automated detection of intraoperative VI from free-text notes, the NLP algorithm achieved c-statistic of 0.92. The NLP algorithm identified 18 of the 21 patients (sensitivity 0.86) who had a VI whereas current procedural terminologyand international classification of diseases codes identified 6 of the 21 (sensitivity 0.29) patients. At this threshold, the NLP algorithm had a specificity of 0.93, negative predictive value of 0.99, positive predictive value of 0.51, and F1-score of 0.64.

Conclusion: Relying on administrative procedural and diagnosis codes may underestimate the rate of unintended intraoperative VI in anterior lumbar spine surgery. External and prospective validation of the algorithms presented here may improve quality and safety reporting.

Keywords: Anterior lumbar; Artificial intelligence; Complication; Diagnosis; Machine learning; Natural language processing; Spine; Vascular injury.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning
  • Male
  • Natural Language Processing*
  • Neurosurgical Procedures
  • Vascular System Injuries*