Precision medicine for traumatic cervical spinal cord injuries: accessible and interpretable machine learning models to predict individualized in-hospital outcomes

Mert Karabacak, Konstantinos Margetis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND CONTEXT: A traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) can cause temporary or permanent motor and sensory impairment, leading to serious short and long-term consequences that can result in significant morbidity and mortality. The cervical spine is the most commonly affected area, accounting for about 60% of all traumatic SCI cases. PURPOSE: This study aims to employ machine learning (ML) algorithms to predict various outcomes, such as in-hospital mortality, nonhome discharges, extended length of stay (LOS), extended length of intensive care unit stay (ICU-LOS), and major complications in patients diagnosed with cervical SCI (cSCI). STUDY DESIGN: Our study was a retrospective machine learning classification study aiming to predict the outcomes of interest, which were binary categorical variables, in patients diagnosed with cSCI. PATIENT SAMPLE: The data for this study were obtained from the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Trauma Quality Program (TQP) database, which was queried to identify patients who suffered from cSCI between 2019 and 2021. OUTCOME MEASURES: The outcomes of interest of our study were in-hospital mortality, nonhome discharges, prolonged LOS, prolonged ICU-LOS, and major complications. The study evaluated the models' performance using both graphical and numerical methods. The receiver operating characteristic (ROC) and precision-recall curves (PRC) were used to assess model performance graphically. Numerical evaluation metrics included AUROC, balanced accuracy, weighted area under PRC (AUPRC), weighted precision, and weighted recall. METHODS: The study employed data from the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Trauma Quality Program (TQP) database to identify patients with cSCI. Four ML algorithms, namely XGBoost, LightGBM, CatBoost, and Random Forest, were utilized to develop predictive models. The most effective models were then incorporated into a publicly available web application designed to forecast the outcomes of interest. RESULTS: There were 71,661 patients included in the analysis for the outcome mortality, 67,331 for the outcome nonhome discharges, 76,782 for the outcome prolonged LOS, 26,615 for the outcome prolonged ICU-LOS, and 72,132 for the outcome major complications. The algorithms exhibited an AUROC value range of 0.78 to 0.839 for in-hospital mortality, 0.806 to 0.815 for nonhome discharges, 0.679 to 0.742 for prolonged LOS, 0.666 to 0.682 for prolonged ICU-LOS, and 0.637 to 0.704 for major complications. An open access web application was developed as part of the study, which can generate predictions for individual patients based on their characteristics. CONCLUSIONS: Our study suggests that ML models can be valuable in assessing risk for patients with cervical cSCI and may have considerable potential for predicting outcomes during hospitalization. ML models demonstrated good predictive ability for in-hospital mortality and nonhome discharges, fair predictive ability for prolonged LOS, but poor predictive ability for prolonged ICU-LOS and major complications. Along with these promising results, the development of a user-friendly web application that facilitates the integration of these models into clinical practice is a significant contribution of this study. The product of this study may have significant implications in clinical settings to personalize care, anticipate outcomes, facilitate shared decision making and informed consent processes for cSCI patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1750-1763
Number of pages14
JournalSpine Journal
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Machine learning
  • Neurotrauma
  • Outcome prediction
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Spinal trauma
  • Web application


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