Real-time risk prediction of colorectal surgery-related post-surgical complications using GRU-D model

Xiaoyang Ruan, Sunyang Fu, Curtis B. Storlie, Kellie L. Mathis, David W. Larson, Hongfang Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Post-surgical complications (PSCs) have been an increasing concern for hospitals in light of Medicare penalties for 30-day readmissions. PSCs have become a target for quality improvement and benchmark for the healthcare system. Over half (60 %) of the deep or organ space surgical site infections are discovered after discharge, leading to a readmission. There has thus been a push to develop risk prediction models for targeted preventive interventions for PSCs. Objective: We experiment several Gated Recurrent Unit with Decay (GRU-D) based deep learning architectures with various feature sampling schemes in predicting the risk of colorectal PSCs and compare with atemporal logistic regression models (logit). Method: We used electronic health record (EHR) data of 3,535 colorectal surgical patients involved in the national surgical quality improvement program (NSQIP) between 2006 and 2018. Single layer, stacked layer, and multimodal GRU-D models with sigmoid activation were used to develop risk prediction models. Area Under the Receiver Operating Characteristic curve (AUROC) was calculated by comparing predicted probability of developing complications versus truly observed PSCs (NSQIP adjudicated) within 30 days after surgery. We set up cross-validation and an independent held-out dataset for testing model performance consistency. Results and conclusion: The primary contribution of our study is the formulation of a novel real-time PSC risk prediction task using GRU-D with demonstrated clinical utility. GRU-D outperforms the logit model in predicting wound and organ space infection and shows improved performance as additional data points become available. Logit model outperforms GRU-D before surgery for superficial infection and bleeding. For the same sampling scheme, there is no obvious advantage of complex architectures (stacked, multimodal) over single layer GRU-D. Obtaining more data points closer to the occurrence of PSCs is more important than using a more frequent sampling scheme in training GRU-D models. The fourth predicted risk quartile by single layer GRU-D contains 63 %, 59 %, and 66 % organ space infection cases, at 4 h before, 72 h after, and 168 h after surgery, respectively, suggesting its potential application as a bedside risk assessment tool.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104202
JournalJournal of Biomedical Informatics
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Colorectal surgery (CRS)
  • Machine learning
  • Post-surgical complication (PSC)
  • Real-time risk prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Computer Science Applications


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