Dense phenotyping from electronic health records enables machine learning-based prediction of preterm birth

BMC Med. 2022 Sep 28;20(1):333. doi: 10.1186/s12916-022-02522-x.


Background: Identifying pregnancies at risk for preterm birth, one of the leading causes of worldwide infant mortality, has the potential to improve prenatal care. However, we lack broadly applicable methods to accurately predict preterm birth risk. The dense longitudinal information present in electronic health records (EHRs) is enabling scalable and cost-efficient risk modeling of many diseases, but EHR resources have been largely untapped in the study of pregnancy.

Methods: Here, we apply machine learning to diverse data from EHRs with 35,282 deliveries to predict singleton preterm birth.

Results: We find that machine learning models based on billing codes alone can predict preterm birth risk at various gestational ages (e.g., ROC-AUC = 0.75, PR-AUC = 0.40 at 28 weeks of gestation) and outperform comparable models trained using known risk factors (e.g., ROC-AUC = 0.65, PR-AUC = 0.25 at 28 weeks). Examining the patterns learned by the model reveals it stratifies deliveries into interpretable groups, including high-risk preterm birth subtypes enriched for distinct comorbidities. Our machine learning approach also predicts preterm birth subtypes (spontaneous vs. indicated), mode of delivery, and recurrent preterm birth. Finally, we demonstrate the portability of our approach by showing that the prediction models maintain their accuracy on a large, independent cohort (5978 deliveries) from a different healthcare system.

Conclusions: By leveraging rich phenotypic and genetic features derived from EHRs, we suggest that machine learning algorithms have great potential to improve medical care during pregnancy. However, further work is needed before these models can be applied in clinical settings.

Keywords: Artificial intelligence; Electronic health records; Machine learning; Preterm birth.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Machine Learning
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth* / diagnosis
  • Premature Birth* / epidemiology