Improved accuracy and efficiency of primary care fall risk screening of older adults using a machine learning approach

Wenyu Song, Nancy K. Latham, Luwei Liu, Hannah E. Rice, Michael Sainlaire, Lillian Min, Linying Zhang, Tien Thai, Min Jeoung Kang, Siyun Li, Christian Tejeda, Stuart Lipsitz, Lipika Samal, Diane L. Carroll, Lesley Adkison, Lisa Herlihy, Virginia Ryan, David W. Bates, Patricia C. Dykes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: While many falls are preventable, they remain a leading cause of injury and death in older adults. Primary care clinics largely rely on screening questionnaires to identify people at risk of falls. Limitations of standard fall risk screening questionnaires include suboptimal accuracy, missing data, and non-standard formats, which hinder early identification of risk and prevention of fall injury. We used machine learning methods to develop and evaluate electronic health record (EHR)-based tools to identify older adults at risk of fall-related injuries in a primary care population and compared this approach to standard fall screening questionnaires. Methods: Using patient-level clinical data from an integrated healthcare system consisting of 16-member institutions, we conducted a case–control study to develop and evaluate prediction models for fall-related injuries in older adults. Questionnaire-derived prediction with three questions from a commonly used fall risk screening tool was evaluated. We then developed four temporal machine learning models using routinely available longitudinal EHR data to predict the future risk of fall injury. We also developed a fall injury-prevention clinical decision support (CDS) implementation prototype to link preventative interventions to patient-specific fall injury risk factors. Results: Questionnaire-based risk screening achieved area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) up to 0.59 with 23% to 33% similarity for each pair of three fall injury screening questions. EHR-based machine learning risk screening showed significantly improved performance (best AUROC = 0.76), with similar prediction performance between 6-month and one-year prediction models. Conclusions: The current method of questionnaire-based fall risk screening of older adults is suboptimal with redundant items, inadequate precision, and no linkage to prevention. A machine learning fall injury prediction method can accurately predict risk with superior sensitivity while freeing up clinical time for initiating personalized fall prevention interventions. The developed algorithm and data science pipeline can impact routine primary care fall prevention practice.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • community-dwelling older adults
  • fall and fall-related injury
  • machine learning
  • primary care
  • risk screening


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