Akash A. Shah, Sai K. Devana, Changhee Lee, Amador Bugarin, Elizabeth L. Lord, Arya N. Shamie, Don Y. Park, Mihaela van der Schaar, Nelson F. SooHoo

August 2022, Volume 31, Issue 8, pp 1952 - 1959 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-021-06961-7

First Online: 15 August 2021

Machine learning-driven identification of novel patient factors for prediction of major complications after posterior cervical spinal fusion


Posterior cervical fusion is associated with increased rates of complications and readmission when compared to anterior fusion. Machine learning (ML) models for risk stratification of patients undergoing posterior cervical fusion remain limited. We aim to develop a novel ensemble ML algorithm for prediction of major perioperative complications and readmission after posterior cervical fusion and identify factors important to model performance.


This is a retrospective cohort study of adults who underwent posterior cervical fusion at non-federal California hospitals between 2015 and 2017. The primary outcome was readmission or major complication. We developed an ensemble model predicting complication risk using an automated ML framework. We compared performance with standard ML models and logistic regression (LR), ranking contribution of included variables to model performance.


Of the included 6822 patients, 18.8% suffered a major complication or readmission. The ensemble model demonstrated slightly superior predictive performance compared to LR and standard ML models. The most important features to performance include sex, malignancy, pneumonia, stroke, and teaching hospital status. Seven of the ten most important features for the ensemble model were markedly less important for LR.


We report an ensemble ML model for prediction of major complications and readmission after posterior cervical fusion with a modest risk prediction advantage compared to LR and benchmark ML models. Notably, the features most important to the ensemble are markedly different from those for LR, suggesting that advanced ML methods may identify novel prognostic factors for adverse outcomes after posterior cervical fusion.

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