Identifying subgroups of complex patients with cluster analysis

Sophia R. Newcomer, John F. Steiner, Elizabeth A. Bayliss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Objective: To illustrate the use of cluster analysis for identifying sub-populations of complex patients who may benefit from targeted care management strategies. Study Design: Retrospective cohort analysis. Methods: We identified a cohort of adult members of an integrated health maintenance organization who had 2 or more of 17 common chronic medical conditions and were categorized in the top 20% of total cost of care for 2 consecutive years (n = 15,480). We used agglomerative hierarchical clustering methods to identify clinically relevant subgroups based on groupings of coexisting conditions. Ward's minimum variance algorithm provided the most parsimonious solution. Results: Ward's algorithm identified 10 clinically relevant clusters grouped around single or multiple "anchoring conditions." The clusters revealed distinct groups of patients including: coexisting chronic pain and mental illness, obesity and mental illness, frail elderly, cancer, specific surgical procedures, cardiac disease, chronic lung disease, gastrointestinal bleeding, diabetes, and renal disease. These conditions co-occurred with multiple other chronic conditions. Mental health diagnoses were prevalent (range 28% to 100%) in all clusters. Conclusions: Data mining procedures such as cluster analysis can be used to identify discrete groups of patients with specific combinations of comorbid conditions. These clusters suggest the need for a range of care management strategies. Although several of our clusters lend themselves to existing care and disease management protocols, care management for other subgroups is less well-defined. Cluster analysis methods can be leveraged to develop targeted care management interventions designed to improve health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e324-e332
JournalAmerican Journal of Managed Care
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011


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