Public health surveillance in high-dimensions with supervised learning
Public health surveillance is a special case of the general problem where counts (or rates) of events are monitored for changes. Modern data complements event counts with many additional measurements (such as geographic, demographic, and others) that comprise high-dimensional covariates. This leads to an important challenge to detect a change that only occurs within a region, initially unspecified, defined by these covariates. Current methods are typically limited to spatial and/or temporal covariate information and often fail to use all the information available in modern data that can be paramount in unveiling these subtle changes. Additional complexities associated with modern health data that are often not accounted for by traditional methods include: covariates of mixed type, missing values, and high-order interactions among covariates. This work proposes a transform of public health surveillance to supervised learning, so that an appropriate learner can inherently address all the complexities described previously. At the same time, quantitative measures from the learner can be used to define signal criteria to detect changes in rates of events. A Feature Selection (FS) method is used to identify covariates that contribute to a model and to generate a signal. A measure of statistical significance is included to control false alarms. An alternative Percentile method identifies the specific cases that lead to changes using class probability estimates from tree-based ensembles. This second method is intended to be less computationally intensive and significantly simpler to implement. Finally, a third method labeled Rule-Based Feature Value Selection (RBFVS) is proposed for identifying the specific regions in high-dimensional space where the changes are occurring. Results on simulated examples are used to compare the FS method and the Percentile method. Note this work emphasizes the application of the proposed methods on public health surveillance. Nonetheless, these methods can easily be extended to a variety of applications where counts (or rates) of events are monitored for changes. Such problems commonly occur in domains such as manufacturing, economics, environmental systems, engineering, as well as in public health.