Not there yet: using data-driven methods to predict who becomes costly among low-cost patients with type 2 diabetes

BMC Endocr Disord. 2020 Aug 17;20(1):125. doi: 10.1186/s12902-020-00609-1.


Background: Diabetes is a leading cause of Medicare spending; predicting which individuals are likely to be costly is essential for targeting interventions. Current approaches generally focus on composite measures, short time-horizons, or patients who are already high utilizers, whose costs may be harder to modify. Thus, we used data-driven methods to classify unique clusters in Medicare claims who were initially low utilizers by their diabetes spending patterns in subsequent years and used machine learning to predict these patterns.

Methods: We identified beneficiaries with type 2 diabetes whose spending was in the bottom 90% of diabetes care spending in a one-year baseline period in Medicare fee-for-service data. We used group-based trajectory modeling to classify unique clusters of patients by diabetes-related spending patterns over a two-year follow-up. Prediction models were estimated with generalized boosted regression, a machine learning method, using sets of all baseline predictors, diabetes predictors, and predictors that are potentially-modifiable through interventions. Each model was evaluated through C-statistics and 5-fold cross-validation.

Results: Among 33,789 beneficiaries (baseline median diabetes spending: $4153), we identified 5 distinct spending patterns that could largely be predicted; of these, 68.1% of patients had consistent spending, 25.3% had spending that rose quickly, and 6.6% of patients had spending that rose progressively. The ability to predict these groups was moderate (validated C-statistics: 0.63 to 0.87). The most influential factors for those with progressively rising spending were age, generosity of coverage, prior spending, and medication adherence.

Conclusions: Patients with type 2 diabetes who were initially low spenders exhibit distinct subsequent long-term patterns of diabetes spending; membership in these patterns can be largely predicted with data-driven methods. These findings as well as applications of the overall approach could potentially inform the design and timing of diabetes or cost-containment interventions, such as medication adherence or interventions that enhance access to care, among patients with type 2 diabetes.

Keywords: Costs of care/healthcare expenditures; Diabetes; Healthcare management; Medicare.