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Explainable machine-learning predictions for the prevention of hypoxaemia during surgery


Although anaesthesiologists strive to avoid hypoxaemia during surgery, reliably predicting future intraoperative hypoxaemia is not possible at present. Here, we report the development and testing of a machine-learning-based system that predicts the risk of hypoxaemia and provides explanations of the risk factors in real time during general anaesthesia. The system, which was trained on minute-by-minute data from the electronic medical records of over 50,000 surgeries, improved the performance of anaesthesiologists by providing interpretable hypoxaemia risks and contributing factors. The explanations for the predictions are broadly consistent with the literature and with prior knowledge from anaesthesiologists. Our results suggest that if anaesthesiologists currently anticipate 15% of hypoxaemia events, with the assistance of this system they could anticipate 30%, a large portion of which may benefit from early intervention because they are associated with modifiable factors. The system can help improve the clinical understanding of hypoxaemia risk during anaesthesia care by providing general insights into the exact changes in risk induced by certain characteristics of the patient or procedure.

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Fig. 1: Prescience integrates many data sources into a single risk, which is explained through a succinct visual summary.
Fig. 2: Patient and procedure characteristics.
Fig. 3: Pooled comparison of the prediction performance of five anaesthesiologists with and without the assistance of Prescience.
Fig. 4: Sample real-time prediction during a procedure.
Fig. 5: Comparison of averaged feature-importance estimates between Prescience and anaesthesiologists for both initial and real-time prediction.
Fig. 6: Effect of varying individual feature values for both preoperative and real-time features.

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Data availability

Owing to patient-privacy considerations, the operating-room datasets from participating hospitals are not publicly available. The raw data from the anaesthesiologist comparisons in Fig. 3 are available in Supplementary Tables 6 and 7, and data from Fig. 5 are available in Supplementary Tables 8 and 9.


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We thank G. Erion, M. T. Ribeiro, J. Schreiber and members of the Lee laboratory for feedback and suggestions that improved the manuscript and experiments. This work was supported by National Science Foundation grant nos. DBI-135589 and DBI-1552309, National Institutes of Health grant no. 1R35GM128638, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship grant no. DGE-1256082 and a UW eScience/ITHS seed grant Machine Learning in Operating Rooms.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



S.-I.L., S.M.L., B.N. and J.K. initiated the study. S.-I.L. and S.M.L. developed the Prescience algorithms and designed data analyses and experiments. S.M.L. performed data analyses, experiments and data preprocessing. B.N. and S.-F.N. provided the electronic medical record data. J.K. recruited anaesthesiologists and helped design the anaesthesiologist test and survey. M.H., M.J.E., T.A., D.E.L. and D.K.-W.L. performed the web-based anaesthesiologist experiments and provided survey data. M.S.V. provided clinical assessment, interpretation of feature importances and connections with anaesthesiologists’ workflow. S.-I L. and S.M.L. wrote the paper in conjunction with B.N., J.K. and M.S.V. who wrote the sections on clinical interpretation and integration with current practices. M.H. provided manuscript feedback.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Su-In Lee.

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Competing interests

B.N. is an advisor for Perimatics LLC and holds equity in the company. D.K.-W.L. is a Chief Medical Officer for MDmetrix, Inc. The other authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–12, Supplementary Tables 1–3 and Supplementary References 1–2.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table 4

Initial features used by Prescience. An enumeration of all the 3,797 features used for preoperative predictions.

Supplementary Table 5

Intraoperative features used by Prescience. An enumeration of all the 3,905 features used for intraoperative predictions.

Supplementary Table 6

Data for Fig. 3a.

Supplementary Table 7

Data for Fig. 3b.

Supplementary Table 8

Data for Fig. 5a.

Supplementary Table 9

Data for Fig. 5b.

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Lundberg, S.M., Nair, B., Vavilala, M.S. et al. Explainable machine-learning predictions for the prevention of hypoxaemia during surgery. Nat Biomed Eng 2, 749–760 (2018).

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