Comparisons between hypothesis- And data-driven approaches for multimorbidity frailty index:a machine learning approach

Li Ning Peng, Fei Yuan Hsiao, Wei Ju Lee, Shih Tsung Huang, Liang Kung Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background: Using big data and the theory of cumulative deficits to develop the multimorbidity frailty index (mFI) has become a widely accepted approach in public health and health care services. However, constructing the mFI using the most critical determinants and stratifying different risk groups with dose-response relationships remain major challenges in clinical practice. Objective: This study aimed to develop the mFI by using machine learning methods that select variables based on the optimal fitness of the model. In addition, we aimed to further establish 4 entities of risk using a machine learning approach that would achieve the best distinction between groups and demonstrate the dose-response relationship. Methods: In this study, we used Taiwan's National Health Insurance Research Database to develop a machine learning multimorbidity frailty index (ML-mFI) using the theory of cumulative diseases/deficits of an individual older person. Compared to the conventional mFI, in which the selection of diseases/deficits is based on expert opinion, we adopted the random forest method to select the most influential diseases/deficits that predict adverse outcomes for older people. To ensure that the survival curves showed a dose-response relationship with overlap during the follow-up, we developed the distance index and coverage index, which can be used at any time point to classify the ML-mFI of all subjects into the categories of fit, mild frailty, moderate frailty, and severe frailty. Survival analysis was conducted to evaluate the ability of the ML-mFI to predict adverse outcomes, such as unplanned hospitalizations, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, and mortality. Results: The final ML-mFI model contained 38 diseases/deficits. Compared with conventional mFI, both indices had similar distribution patterns by age and sex; however, among people aged 65 to 69 years, the mean mFI and ML-mFI were 0.037 (SD 0.048) and 0.0070 (SD 0.0254), respectively. The difference may result from discrepancies in the diseases/deficits selected in the mFI and the ML-mFI. A total of 86,133 subjects aged 65 to 100 years were included in this study and were categorized into 4 groups according to the ML-mFI. Both the Kaplan-Meier survival curves and Cox models showed that the ML-mFI significantly predicted all outcomes of interest, including all-cause mortality, unplanned hospitalizations, and all-cause ICU admissions at 1, 5, and 8 years of follow-up (P<.01). In particular, a dose-response relationship was revealed between the 4 ML-mFI groups and adverse outcomes. Conclusions: The ML-mFI consists of 38 diseases/deficits that can successfully stratify risk groups associated with all-cause mortality, unplanned hospitalizations, and all-cause ICU admissions in older people, which indicates that precise, patient-centered medical care can be a reality in an aging society.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere16213
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Intensive care unit admissions
  • Machine learning
  • Mortality
  • Multimorbidity frailty index
  • Random forest
  • Unplanned hospitalizations


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