Inverse reinforcement learning for intelligent mechanical ventilation and sedative dosing in intensive care units

Chao Yu*, Jiming LIU, Hongyi Zhao

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Reinforcement learning (RL) provides a promising technique to solve complex sequential decision making problems in health care domains. To ensure such applications, an explicit reward function encoding domain knowledge should be specified beforehand to indicate the goal of tasks. However, there is usually no explicit information regarding the reward function in medical records. It is then necessary to consider an approach whereby the reward function can be learned from a set of presumably optimal treatment trajectories using retrospective real medical data. This paper applies inverse RL in inferring the reward functions that clinicians have in mind during their decisions on weaning of mechanical ventilation and sedative dosing in Intensive Care Units (ICUs). Methods: We model the decision making problem as a Markov Decision Process, and use a batch RL method, Fitted Q Iterations with Gradient Boosting Decision Tree, to learn a suitable ventilator weaning policy from real trajectories in retrospective ICU data. A Bayesian inverse RL method is then applied to infer the latent reward functions in terms of weights in trading off various aspects of evaluation criterion. We then evaluate how the policy learned using the Bayesian inverse RL method matches the policy given by clinicians, as compared to other policies learned with fixed reward functions. Results: Results show that the inverse RL method is capable of extracting meaningful indicators for recommending extubation readiness and sedative dosage, indicating that clinicians pay more attention to patients' physiological stability (e.g., heart rate and respiration rate), rather than oxygenation criteria (FiO 2, PEEP and SpO 2) which is supported by previous RL methods. Moreover, by discovering the optimal weights, new effective treatment protocols can be suggested. Conclusions: Inverse RL is an effective approach to discovering clinicians' underlying reward functions for designing better treatment protocols in the ventilation weaning and sedative dosing in future ICUs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number57
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2019

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health Informatics

User-Defined Keywords

  • Intensive care units
  • Inverse learning
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Sedative dosing


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