Clinical staff are typically poor at predicting alcohol dependence treatment outcomes. Machine Learning (ML) offers the potential to model complex clinical data more effectively. This study tested the predictive accuracy of ML algorithms demonstrated to be effective in predicting alcohol dependence outcomes, compared with clinical judgement and traditional linear regression.
Prospective study. ML models were trained on 1016 previously treated patients (training-set) who attended a hospital-based alcohol and drug clinic. ML models (n=27), clinical psychologists (n=10), and a ‘traditional’ logistic regression model (n=1) predicted treatment outcome during the initial treatment session of an alcohol dependence program.
A three-month Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)-based abstinence program for alcohol dependence in a hospital-based alcohol and drug clinic in Australia.
Prospective predictions were made for 220 new patients (test-set; 71% male, mean age=35.78 years, sd=9.19). Sixty-nine (31.36%) patients successfully completed treatment.
Treatment success was the primary outcome variable. The cross-validated training-set accuracy of ML models was used to determine optimal parameters for selecting models for prospective prediction. Accuracy, sensitivity, specificity, Area Under the receiver operator Curve (AUC), Brier Score, and calibration curves were calculated and compared across predictions.
The mean aggregate accuracy of the ML models (63.06%) was higher than the mean accuracy of psychologist predictions (56.36%). The most accurate ML model achieved 70% accuracy, as did logistic regression. Both were more accurate than psychologists (p<.05) and had superior calibration. The high specificity for the selected ML (79%) and logistic regression (90%) meant they were significantly (p<.001) more effective than psychologists (50%) at correctly identifying patients whose treatment was unsuccessful. For ML and logistic regression, high specificity came at the expense of sensitivity (26% and 31% respectively), resulting in poor prediction of successful patients.
Machine Learning models and logistic regression appear to be more accurate than psychologists at predicting treatment outcomes in an abstinence program for alcohol dependence, but sensitivity is low.

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