Predicting the Individual Treatment Effect of Neurosurgery for Patients with Traumatic Brain Injury in the Low-Resource Setting: A Machine Learning Approach in Uganda

J Neurotrauma. 2021 Apr 1;38(7):928-939. doi: 10.1089/neu.2020.7262. Epub 2020 Dec 14.


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) disproportionately affects low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). In these low-resource settings, effective triage of patients with TBI-including the decision of whether or not to perform neurosurgery-is critical in optimizing patient outcomes and healthcare resource utilization. Machine learning may allow for effective predictions of patient outcomes both with and without surgery. Data from patients with TBI was collected prospectively at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, from 2016 to 2019. One linear and six non-linear machine learning models were designed to predict good versus poor outcome near hospital discharge and internally validated using nested five-fold cross-validation. The 13 predictors included clinical variables easily acquired on admission and whether or not the patient received surgery. Using an elastic-net regularized logistic regression model (GLMnet), with predictions calibrated using Platt scaling, the probability of poor outcome was calculated for each patient both with and without surgery (with the difference quantifying the "individual treatment effect," ITE). Relative ITE represents the percent reduction in chance of poor outcome, equaling this ITE divided by the probability of poor outcome with no surgery. Ultimately, 1766 patients were included. Areas under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUROCs) ranged from 83.1% (single C5.0 ruleset) to 88.5% (random forest), with the GLMnet at 87.5%. The two variables promoting good outcomes in the GLMnet model were high Glasgow Coma Scale score and receiving surgery. For the subgroup not receiving surgery, the median relative ITE was 42.9% (interquartile range [IQR], 32.7% to 53.5%); similarly, in those receiving surgery, it was 43.2% (IQR, 32.9% to 54.3%). We provide the first machine learning-based model to predict TBI outcomes with and without surgery in LMICs, thus enabling more effective surgical decision making in the resource-limited setting. Predicted ITE similarity between surgical and non-surgical groups suggests that, currently, patients are not being chosen optimally for neurosurgical intervention. Our clinical decision aid has the potential to improve outcomes.

Keywords: individual treatment effect; machine learning; neurosurgery; prognosis; traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / economics*
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / surgery*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Glasgow Coma Scale / economics
  • Glasgow Coma Scale / trends
  • Health Resources / economics*
  • Health Resources / trends
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning / economics*
  • Machine Learning / trends
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / economics*
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / trends
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Uganda / epidemiology
  • Young Adult