Surgery or comfort care for neonates with surgical necrotizing enterocolitis: Lessons learned from behavioral artificial intelligence technology

Otis C. van Varsseveld*, Annebel ten Broeke, Caspar G. Chorus, Nicolaas Heyning, Elisabeth M.W. Kooi, Jan B.F. Hulscher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Background: Critical decision making in surgical necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is highly complex and hard to capture in decision rules due to case-specificity and high mortality risk. In this choice experiment, we aimed to identify the implicit weight of decision factors towards future decision support, and to assess potential differences between specialties or centers. Methods: Thirty-five hypothetical surgical NEC scenarios with different factor levels were evaluated by neonatal care experts of all Dutch neonatal care centers in an online environment, where a recommendation for surgery or comfort care was requested. We conducted choice analysis by constructing a binary logistic regression model according to behavioral artificial intelligence technology (BAIT). Results: Out of 109 invited neonatal care experts, 62 (57%) participated, including 45 neonatologists, 16 pediatric surgeons and one neonatology physician assistant. Cerebral ultrasound (Relative importance = 20%, OR = 4.06, 95% CI = 3.39–4.86) was the most important factor in the decision surgery versus comfort care in surgical NEC, nationwide and for all specialties and centers. Pediatric surgeons more often recommended surgery compared to neonatologists (62% vs. 57%, p = 0.03). For all centers, cerebral ultrasound, congenital comorbidity, hemodynamics and parental preferences were significant decision factors (p < 0.05). Sex (p = 0.14), growth since birth (p = 0.25), and estimated parental capacities (p = 0.06) had no significance in nationwide nor subgroup analyses. Conclusion: We demonstrated how BAIT can analyze the implicit weight of factors in the complex and critical decision for surgery or comfort care for (surgical) NEC. The findings reflect Dutch expertise, but the technique can be expanded internationally. After validation, our choice model/BAIT may function as decision aid.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1122188
JournalFrontiers in Pediatrics
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support for this study was provided in part by a grant from the European Research Council (ERC-Consolidator Grant BEHAVE, grant 724431). The funding agreement ensured the authors' independence in designing the study, interpreting the data, writing, and publishing the report. Financial support for publication of this study was provided by the For Wis(h)dom Foundation (Project 9, 2 February 2022) (Baarn, Netherlands). nd Acknowledgments

Publisher Copyright:
2023 van Varsseveld, ten Broeke, Chorus, Heyning, Kooi and Hulscher.


  • artificial intelligence
  • choice analysis
  • comfort care
  • critical care
  • decision making
  • decision support
  • necrotizing enterocolitis


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