Predicting non-improvement of symptoms in daily mental healthcare practice using routinely collected patient-level data: a machine learning approach

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Objectives: Anxiety and mood disorders greatly affect the quality of life for individuals worldwide. A substantial proportion of patients do not sufficiently improve during evidence-based treatments in mental healthcare. It remains challenging to predict which patients will or will not benefit. Moreover, the limited research available on predictors of treatment outcomes comes from efficacy RCTs with strict selection criteria which may limit generalizability to a real-world context. The current study evaluates the performance of different machine learning (ML) models in predicting non-improvement in an observational sample of patients treated in routine specialized mental healthcare. Methods: In the current longitudinal exploratory prediction study diagnosis-related, sociodemographic, clinical and routinely collected patient-reported quantitative outcome measures were acquired during treatment as usual of 755 patients with a primary anxiety, depressive, obsessive compulsive or trauma-related disorder in a specialized outpatient mental healthcare center. ML algorithms were trained to predict non-response (< 0.5 standard deviation improvement) in symptomatic distress 6 months after baseline. Different models were trained, including models with and without early change scores in psychopathology and well-being and models with a trimmed set of predictor variables. Performance of trained models was evaluated in a hold-out sample (30%) as a proxy for unseen data. Results: ML models without early change scores performed poorly in predicting six-month non-response in the hold-out sample with Area Under the Curves (AUCs) < 0.63. Including early change scores slightly improved the models’ performance (AUC range: 0.68–0.73). Computationally-intensive ML models did not significantly outperform logistic regression (AUC: 0.69). Reduced prediction models performed similar to the full prediction models in both the models without (AUC: 0.58–0.62 vs. 0.58–0.63) and models with early change scores (AUC: 0.69–0.73 vs. 0.68–0.71). Across different ML algorithms, early change scores in psychopathology and well-being consistently emerged as important predictors for non-improvement. Conclusion: Accurately predicting treatment outcomes in a mental healthcare context remains challenging. While advanced ML algorithms offer flexibility, they showed limited additional value compared to traditional logistic regression in this study. The current study confirmed the importance of taking early change scores in both psychopathology and well-being into account for predicting longer-term outcomes in symptomatic distress.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1236551
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sept 2023


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