Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Chris Gennings


In clinical settings, the diagnosis of medical conditions is often aided by measurement of various serum biomarkers through the use of laboratory tests. These biomarkers provide information about different aspects of a patient’s health and the overall function of different organs. In this dissertation, we develop and validate a weighted composite index that aggregates the information from a variety of health biomarkers covering multiple organ systems. The index can be used for predicting all-cause mortality and could also be used as a holistic measure of overall physiological health status. We refer to it as the Health Status Metric (HSM). Validation analysis shows that the HSM is predictive of long-term mortality risk and exhibits a robust association with concurrent chronic conditions, recent hospital utilization, and self-rated health. We develop the HSM using Weighted Quantile Sum (WQS) regression (Gennings et al., 2013; Carrico, 2013), a novel penalized regression technique that imposes nonnegativity and unit-sum constraints on the coefficients used to weight index components. In this dissertation, we develop a number of extensions to the WQS regression technique and apply them to the construction of the HSM. We introduce a new guided approach for the standardization of index components which accounts for potential nonlinear relationships with the outcome of interest. An extended version of the WQS that accommodates interaction effects among index components is also developed and implemented. In addition, we demonstrate that ensemble learning methods borrowed from the field of machine learning can be used to improve the predictive power of the WQS index. Specifically, we show that the use of techniques such as weighted bagging, the random subspace method and stacked generalization in conjunction with the WQS model can produce an index with substantially enhanced predictive accuracy. Finally, practical applications of the HSM are explored. A comparative study is performed to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of a number of ‘real-time’ imputation strategies in potential software applications for computing the HSM. In addition, the efficacy of the HSM as a predictor of hospital readmission is assessed in a cohort of emergency department patients.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2014

Included in

Biostatistics Commons