A comparison of attentional neural network architectures for modeling with electronic medical records

JAMIA Open. 2021 Aug 12;4(3):ooab064. doi: 10.1093/jamiaopen/ooab064. eCollection 2021 Jul.


Objective: Attention networks learn an intelligent weighted averaging mechanism over a series of entities, providing increases to both performance and interpretability. In this article, we propose a novel time-aware transformer-based network and compare it to another leading model with similar characteristics. We also decompose model performance along several critical axes and examine which features contribute most to our model's performance.

Materials and methods: Using data sets representing patient records obtained between 2017 and 2019 by the Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic States medical system, we construct four attentional models with varying levels of complexity on two targets (patient mortality and hospitalization). We examine how incorporating transfer learning and demographic features contribute to model success. We also test the performance of a model proposed in recent medical modeling literature. We compare these models with out-of-sample data using the area under the receiver-operator characteristic (AUROC) curve and average precision as measures of performance. We also analyze the attentional weights assigned by these models to patient diagnoses.

Results: We found that our model significantly outperformed the alternative on a mortality prediction task (91.96% AUROC against 73.82% AUROC). Our model also outperformed on the hospitalization task, although the models were significantly more competitive in that space (82.41% AUROC against 80.33% AUROC). Furthermore, we found that demographic features and transfer learning features which are frequently omitted from new models proposed in the EMR modeling space contributed significantly to the success of our model.

Discussion: We proposed an original construction of deep learning electronic medical record models which achieved very strong performance. We found that our unique model construction outperformed on several tasks in comparison to a leading literature alternative, even when input data was held constant between them. We obtained further improvements by incorporating several methods that are frequently overlooked in new model proposals, suggesting that it will be useful to explore these options further in the future.

Keywords: artificial intelligence; attention network; electronic medical record; neural network; patient modeling.