Effectiveness of an Emergency Department-Based Machine Learning Clinical Decision Support Tool to Prevent Outpatient Falls Among Older Adults: Protocol for a Quasi-Experimental Study

JMIR Res Protoc. 2023 Aug 3:12:e48128. doi: 10.2196/48128.


Background: Emergency department (ED) providers are important collaborators in preventing falls for older adults because they are often the first health care providers to see a patient after a fall and because at-home falls are often preceded by previous ED visits. Previous work has shown that ED referrals to falls interventions can reduce the risk of an at-home fall by 38%. Screening patients at risk for a fall can be time-consuming and difficult to implement in the ED setting. Machine learning (ML) and clinical decision support (CDS) offer the potential of automating the screening process. However, it remains unclear whether automation of screening and referrals can reduce the risk of future falls among older patients.

Objective: The goal of this paper is to describe a research protocol for evaluating the effectiveness of an automated screening and referral intervention. These findings will inform ongoing discussions about the use of ML and artificial intelligence to augment medical decision-making.

Methods: To assess the effectiveness of our program for patients receiving the falls risk intervention, our primary analysis will be to obtain referral completion rates at 3 different EDs. We will use a quasi-experimental design known as a sharp regression discontinuity with regard to intent-to-treat, since the intervention is administered to patients whose risk score falls above a threshold. A conditional logistic regression model will be built to describe 6-month fall risk at each site as a function of the intervention, patient demographics, and risk score. The odds ratio of a return visit for a fall and the 95% CI will be estimated by comparing those identified as high risk by the ML-based CDS (ML-CDS) and those who were not but had a similar risk profile.

Results: The ML-CDS tool under study has been implemented at 2 of the 3 EDs in our study. As of April 2023, a total of 1326 patient encounters have been flagged for providers, and 339 unique patients have been referred to the mobility and falls clinic. To date, 15% (45/339) of patients have scheduled an appointment with the clinic.

Conclusions: This study seeks to quantify the impact of an ML-CDS intervention on patient behavior and outcomes. Our end-to-end data set allows for a more meaningful analysis of patient outcomes than other studies focused on interim outcomes, and our multisite implementation plan will demonstrate applicability to a broad population and the possibility to adapt the intervention to other EDs and achieve similar results. Our statistical methodology, regression discontinuity design, allows for causal inference from observational data and a staggered implementation strategy allows for the identification of secular trends that could affect causal associations and allow mitigation as necessary.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT05810064; https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/study/NCT05810064.

International registered report identifier (irrid): DERR1-10.2196/48128.

Keywords: automated screening; clinical decision support; emergency medicine; falls; geriatrics; machine learning.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT05810064