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Machine Learning to Identify Dialysis Patients at High Death Risk



Given the high mortality rate within the first year of dialysis initiation, an accurate estimation of postdialysis mortality could help patients and clinicians in decision making about initiation of dialysis. We aimed to use machine learning (ML) by incorporating complex information from electronic health records to predict patients at risk for postdialysis short-term mortality.


This study was carried out on a contemporary cohort of 27,615 US veterans with incident end-stage renal disease (ESRD). We implemented a random forest method on 49 variables obtained before dialysis transition to predict outcomes of 30-, 90-, 180-, and 365-day all-cause mortality after dialysis initiation.


The mean (±SD) age of our cohort was 68.7 ± 11.2 years, 98.1% of patients were men, 29.4% were African American, and 71.4% were diabetic. The final random forest model provided C-statistics (95% confidence intervals) of 0.7185 (0.6994-0.7377), 0.7446 (0.7346-0.7546), 0.7504 (0.7425-0.7583), and 0.7488 (0.7421-0.7554) for predicting risk of death within the 4 different time windows. The models showed good internal validity and replicated well in patients with various demographic and clinical characteristics and provided similar or better performance compared with other ML algorithms. Results may not be generalizable to non-veterans. Use of predictors available in electronic medical records has limited the assessment of number of predictors.


We implemented and ML-based method to accurately predict short-term postdialysis mortality in patients with incident ESRD. Our models could aid patients and clinicians in better decision making about the best course of action in patients approaching ESRD.

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