Using automated machine learning to predict the mortality of patients with COVID-19: Prediction model development study

Kenji Ikemura, Eran Bellin, Yukako Yagi, Henny Billett, Mahmoud Saada, Katelyn Simone, Lindsay Stahl, James Szymanski, D. Y. Goldstein, Morayma Reyes Gil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Background: During a pandemic, it is important for clinicians to stratify patients and decide who receives limited medical resources. Machine learning models have been proposed to accurately predict COVID-19 disease severity. Previous studies have typically tested only one machine learning algorithm and limited performance evaluation to area under the curve analysis. To obtain the best results possible, it may be important to test different machine learning algorithms to find the best prediction model. Objective: In this study, we aimed to use automated machine learning (autoML) to train various machine learning algorithms. We selected the model that best predicted patients’ chances of surviving a SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, we identified which variables (ie, vital signs, biomarkers, comorbidities, etc) were the most influential in generating an accurate model. Methods: Data were retrospectively collected from all patients who tested positive for COVID-19 at our institution between March 1 and July 3, 2020. We collected 48 variables from each patient within 36 hours before or after the index time (ie, real-time polymerase chain reaction positivity). Patients were followed for 30 days or until death. Patients’ data were used to build 20 machine learning models with various algorithms via autoML. The performance of machine learning models was measured by analyzing the area under the precision-recall curve (AUPCR). Subsequently, we established model interpretability via Shapley additive explanation and partial dependence plots to identify and rank variables that drove model predictions. Afterward, we conducted dimensionality reduction to extract the 10 most influential variables. AutoML models were retrained by only using these 10 variables, and the output models were evaluated against the model that used 48 variables. Results: Data from 4313 patients were used to develop the models. The best model that was generated by using autoML and 48 variables was the stacked ensemble model (AUPRC=0.807). The two best independent models were the gradient boost machine and extreme gradient boost models, which had an AUPRC of 0.803 and 0.793, respectively. The deep learning model (AUPRC=0.73) was substantially inferior to the other models. The 10 most influential variables for generating high-performing models were systolic and diastolic blood pressure, age, pulse oximetry level, blood urea nitrogen level, lactate dehydrogenase level, D-dimer level, troponin level, respiratory rate, and Charlson comorbidity score. After the autoML models were retrained with these 10 variables, the stacked ensemble model still had the best performance (AUPRC=0.791). Conclusions: We used autoML to develop high-performing models that predicted the survival of patients with COVID-19. In addition, we identified important variables that correlated with mortality. This is proof of concept that autoML is an efficient, effective, and informative method for generating machine learning–based clinical decision support tools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23458
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Automated machine learning
  • Biomarker
  • COVID-19
  • Decision support
  • Decision support tool
  • Dimensionality reduction
  • Machine learning
  • Partial dependence plot
  • Ranking
  • Shapley additive explanation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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