Algorithmic prognostication in critical care: a promising but unproven technology for supporting difficult decisions

Curr Opin Crit Care. 2021 Oct 1;27(5):500-505. doi: 10.1097/MCC.0000000000000855.


Purpose of review: Patients, surrogate decision makers, and clinicians face weighty and urgent decisions under uncertainty in the ICU, which could be aided by risk prediction. Although emerging artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) algorithms could reduce uncertainty surrounding these life and death decisions, certain criteria must be met to ensure their bedside value.

Recent findings: Although ICU severity of illness scores have existed for decades, these tools have not been shown to predict well or to improve outcomes for individual patients. Novel AI/ML tools offer the promise of personalized ICU care but remain untested in clinical trials. Ensuring that these predictive models account for heterogeneity in patient characteristics and treatments, are not only specific to a clinical action but also consider the longitudinal course of critical illness, and address patient-centered outcomes related to equity, transparency, and shared decision-making will increase the likelihood that these tools improve outcomes. Improved clarity around standards and contributions from institutions and critical care departments will be essential.

Summary: Improved ICU prognostication, enabled by advanced ML/AI methods, offer a promising approach to inform difficult and urgent decisions under uncertainty. However, critical knowledge gaps around performance, equity, safety, and effectiveness must be filled and prospective, randomized testing of predictive interventions are still needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Artificial Intelligence*
  • Critical Care*
  • Critical Illness
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Technology