Forecasting daily emergency department arrivals using high-dimensional multivariate data: a feature selection approach

Jalmari Tuominen, Francesco Lomio, Niku Oksala, Ari Palomäki, Jaakko Peltonen, Heikki Huttunen, Antti Roine

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Background and objective: Emergency Department (ED) overcrowding is a chronic international issue that is associated with adverse treatment outcomes. Accurate forecasts of future service demand would enable intelligent resource allocation that could alleviate the problem. There has been continued academic interest in ED forecasting but the number of used explanatory variables has been low, limited mainly to calendar and weather variables. In this study we investigate whether predictive accuracy of next day arrivals could be enhanced using high number of potentially relevant explanatory variables and document two feature selection processes that aim to identify which subset of variables is associated with number of next day arrivals. Performance of such predictions over longer horizons is also shown. Methods: We extracted numbers of total daily arrivals from Tampere University Hospital ED between the time period of June 1, 2015 and June 19, 2019. 158 potential explanatory variables were collected from multiple data sources consisting not only of weather and calendar variables but also an extensive list of local public events, numbers of website visits to two hospital domains, numbers of available hospital beds in 33 local hospitals or health centres and Google trends searches for the ED. We used two feature selection processes: Simulated Annealing (SA) and Floating Search (FS) with Recursive Least Squares (RLS) and Least Mean Squares (LMS). Performance of these approaches was compared against autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA), regression with ARIMA errors (ARIMAX) and Random Forest (RF). Mean Absolute Percentage Error (MAPE) was used as the main error metric. Results: Calendar variables, load of secondary care facilities and local public events were dominant in the identified predictive features. RLS-SA and RLS-FA provided slightly better accuracy compared ARIMA. ARIMAX was the most accurate model but the difference between RLS-SA and RLS-FA was not statistically significant. Conclusions: Our study provides new insight into potential underlying factors associated with number of next day presentations. It also suggests that predictive accuracy of next day arrivals can be increased using high-dimensional feature selection approach when compared to both univariate and nonfiltered high-dimensional approach. Performance over multiple horizons was similar with a gradual decline for longer horizons. However, outperforming ARIMAX remains a challenge when working with daily data. Future work should focus on enhancing the feature selection mechanism, investigating its applicability to other domains and in identifying other potentially relevant explanatory variables.

Original languageEnglish
Article number134
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Publication statusPublished - May 2022
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Crowding
  • Emergency department
  • Feature selection
  • Machine learning
  • Statistical learning
  • Time series forecasting

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health Informatics


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