J Med Internet Res. 2020 Dec 2;22(12):e24048. doi: 10.2196/24048.
BACKGROUND: Conventional diagnosis of COVID-19 with reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing (hereafter, PCR) is associated with prolonged time to diagnosis and significant costs to run the test. The SARS-CoV-2 virus might lead to characteristic patterns in the results of widely available, routine blood tests that could be identified with machine learning methodologies. Machine learning modalities integrating findings from these common laboratory test results might accelerate ruling out COVID-19 in emergency department patients.
OBJECTIVE: We sought to develop (ie, train and internally validate with cross-validation techniques) and externally validate a machine learning model to rule out COVID 19 using only routine blood tests among adults in emergency departments.
METHODS: Using clinical data from emergency departments (EDs) from 66 US hospitals before the pandemic (before the end of December 2019) or during the pandemic (March-July 2020), we included patients aged ≥20 years in the study time frame. We excluded those with missing laboratory results. Model training used 2183 PCR-confirmed cases from 43 hospitals during the pandemic; negative controls were 10,000 prepandemic patients from the same hospitals. External validation used 23 hospitals with 1020 PCR-confirmed cases and 171,734 prepandemic negative controls. The main outcome was COVID 19 status predicted using same-day routine laboratory results. Model performance was assessed with area under the receiver operating characteristic (AUROC) curve as well as sensitivity, specificity, and negative predictive value (NPV).
RESULTS: Of 192,779 patients included in the training, external validation, and sensitivity data sets (median age decile 50 [IQR 30-60] years, 40.5% male [78,249/192,779]), AUROC for training and external validation was 0.91 (95% CI 0.90-0.92). Using a risk score cutoff of 1.0 (out of 100) in the external validation data set, the model achieved sensitivity of 95.9% and specificity of 41.7%; with a cutoff of 2.0, sensitivity was 92.6% and specificity was 59.9%. At the cutoff of 2.0, the NPVs at a prevalence of 1%, 10%, and 20% were 99.9%, 98.6%, and 97%, respectively.
CONCLUSIONS: A machine learning model developed with multicenter clinical data integrating commonly collected ED laboratory data demonstrated high rule-out accuracy for COVID-19 status, and might inform selective use of PCR-based testing.