Developing a Practical Suicide Risk Prediction Model for Targeting High-risk Patients in the Veterans Health Administration

Publication Name: 
International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research
Publication Authors: 
Kessler RC, Hwang I, Hoffmire CA, McCarthy JF, Petukhova MV et al
HCP Authors:Ronald C. Kessler PhD
Date of Publication: 
Jul 2017



The US Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has begun using predictive modeling to identify Veterans at high suicide risk to target care. Initial analyses are reported here.


A penalized logistic regression model was compared with an earlier proof-of-concept logistic model. Exploratory analyses then considered commonly-used machine learning algorithms. Analyses were based on electronic medical records for all 6,360 individuals classified in the National Death Index as having died by suicide in fiscal years 2009-2011 who used VHA services the year of their death or prior year and a 1% probability sample of time-matched VHA service users alive at the index date (n = 2,112,008).


A penalized logistic model with 61 predictors had sensitivity comparable to the proof-of-concept model (which had 381 predictors) at target thresholds. The machine learning algorithms had relatively similar sensitivities, the highest being for Bayesian additive regression trees, with 10.7% of suicides occurred among the 1.0% of Veterans with highest predicted risk and 28.1% among the 5.0% of with highest predicted risk.


Based on these results, VHA is using penalized logistic regression in initial intervention implementation. The paper concludes with a discussion of other practical issues that might be explored to increase model performance.

Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


assessment/diagnosis; clinical decision support; epidemiology; machine learning; predictive modeling; suicide/self harm

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