Front Med (Lausanne). 2021 May 28;8:607952. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2021.607952. eCollection 2021.
Background: Sepsis is among the leading causes of death in intensive care units (ICUs) worldwide and its recognition, particularly in the early stages of the disease, remains a medical challenge. The advent of an affluence of available digital health data has created a setting in which machine learning can be used for digital biomarker discovery, with the ultimate goal to advance the early recognition of sepsis. Objective: To systematically review and evaluate studies employing machine learning for the prediction of sepsis in the ICU. Data Sources: Using Embase, Google Scholar, PubMed/Medline, Scopus, and Web of Science, we systematically searched the existing literature for machine learning-driven sepsis onset prediction for patients in the ICU. Study Eligibility Criteria: All peer-reviewed articles using machine learning for the prediction of sepsis onset in adult ICU patients were included. Studies focusing on patient populations outside the ICU were excluded. Study Appraisal and Synthesis Methods: A systematic review was performed according to the PRISMA guidelines. Moreover, a quality assessment of all eligible studies was performed. Results: Out of 974 identified articles, 22 and 21 met the criteria to be included in the systematic review and quality assessment, respectively. A multitude of machine learning algorithms were applied to refine the early prediction of sepsis. The quality of the studies ranged from "poor" (satisfying ≤ 40% of the quality criteria) to "very good" (satisfying ≥ 90% of the quality criteria). The majority of the studies (n = 19, 86.4%) employed an offline training scenario combined with a horizon evaluation, while two studies implemented an online scenario (n = 2, 9.1%). The massive inter-study heterogeneity in terms of model development, sepsis definition, prediction time windows, and outcomes precluded a meta-analysis. Last, only two studies provided publicly accessible source code and data sources fostering reproducibility. Limitations: Articles were only eligible for inclusion when employing machine learning algorithms for the prediction of sepsis onset in the ICU. This restriction led to the exclusion of studies focusing on the prediction of septic shock, sepsis-related mortality, and patient populations outside the ICU. Conclusions and Key Findings: A growing number of studies employs machine learning to optimize the early prediction of sepsis through digital biomarker discovery. This review, however, highlights several shortcomings of the current approaches, including low comparability and reproducibility. Finally, we gather recommendations how these challenges can be addressed before deploying these models in prospective analyses. Systematic Review Registration Number: CRD42020200133.