Identifying mislabelled samples: Machine learning models exceed human performance

Ann Clin Biochem. 2021 Nov;58(6):650-652. doi: 10.1177/00045632211032991. Epub 2021 Jul 16.


Background: It is difficult for clinical laboratories to identify samples that are labelled with the details of an incorrect patient. Many laboratories screen for these errors with delta checks, with final decision-making based on manual review of results by laboratory staff. Machine learning models have been shown to outperform delta checks for identifying these errors. However, a comparison of machine learning models to human-level performance has not yet been made.

Methods: Deidentified data for current and previous (within seven days) electrolytes, urea and creatinine results was used in the computer simulation of mislabelled samples. Eight different machine learning models were developed on 127,256 sets of results using different algorithms: artificial neural network, extreme gradient boosting, support vector machine, random forest, logistic regression, k-nearest neighbours and two decision trees (one complex and one simple). A separate test data-set (n = 14,140) was used to evaluate the performance of these models as well as laboratory staff volunteers, who manually reviewed a random subset of this data (n = 500).

Results: The best performing machine learning model was the artificial neural network (92.1% accuracy), with the simple decision tree demonstrating the poorest accuracy (86.5%). The accuracy of laboratory staff for identifying mislabelled samples was 77.8%.

Conclusions: The results of this preliminary investigation suggest that even relatively simple machine learning models can exceed human performance for identifying mislabelled samples. Machine learning techniques should be considered for implementation in clinical laboratories to assist with error identification.

Keywords: Mislabelled samples; artificial neural networks; human-level performance; machine learning; preanalytical; sample labelling; wrong blood in tube.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Laboratories, Clinical*
  • Logistic Models
  • Machine Learning*
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Support Vector Machine