EHRtemporalVariability: Delineating temporal dataset shifts in Electronic Health Records"

knitr::opts_chunk$set(echo = TRUE, warning=FALSE)


The EHRtemporalVariability package contains functions to delineate temporal dataset shifts in Electronic Health Records through the projection and visualization of dissimilarities among data temporal batches. This is done through the estimation of data statistical distributions over time and their projection in non-parametric statistical manifolds, uncovering the patterns of the data latent temporal variability. Dataset shifts can be explored and identified through visual analytics formats such as Data Temporal heatmaps and Information Geometric Temporal (IGT) plots [@saez_probabilistic_2015; @saez2016applying; @saez2018kinematics]. An additional EHRtemporalVariability Shiny app can be used to load and explore the package results towards an improved investigation experience and even to allow the use of these functions to those users non-experienced in R coding.

If you use EHRtemporalVariability please cite:

Carlos Sáez, Alba Gutiérrez-Sacristán, Isaac Kohane, Juan M García-Gómez, Paul Avillach. EHRtemporalVariability: delineating temporal data-set shifts in Electronic Health Records. GigaScience, Volume 9, Issue 8, August 2020, giaa079. doi:10.1093/gigascience/giaa079 [@saez2020]


Biomedical Data research repositories and property biomedical research databases are becoming bigger both in terms of sample size and collected variables [@Gewin2016; @Andreu-Perez2015]. Two significant reasons behind of this are the widespread adoption of data-sharing initiatives and technological infrastructures, and the continuous and systematic population of those repositories over longer periods of time. However, these two situations can also introduce potential confounding factors in data which may hinder their reuse for research, such as in population research or in statistical and machine learning modeling. Concretely, differences in protocols, populations, or even unexpected biases, either caused by systems or humans, can lead to temporal dataset shifts [@quionero2009dataset; @moreno2012unifying], changes of reference which are reflected in the statistical distributions of data. This temporal variability of data represent a Data Quality (DQ) issue which must be addressed for a reliable data reuse [@saez2016applying; @schlegel2017secondary].

The EHRtemporalVariability package has been developed to help preventing this problem.

The tasks that can be performed with EHRtemporalVariability package are the following:

  1. Estimate the probability distributions of numerical and coded variables on temporal batches at a yearly, monthly or weekly period.
  2. Plot and explore data temporal heatmaps of absolute and relative frequencies of variable values over temporal batches.
  3. Estimate a projection of the variability among data temporal batches, as a non-parametric information geometry embedding of the probabilistic distances among the probability distributions of temporal batches at a number of dimensions specified by the user, allowing for plotting (see next point) or further data analysis methods (such as unsupervised learning of temporal batches).
  4. Plot and explore the projection above through an Information Geometric Temporal plot, which helps delineating reference changes in data over time, including abrupt and recurrent changes, conceptually-related time periods (periods with similar data distributions), but also smooth temporal trends.
  5. Additional data pre- and processing options, such as mapping International Classification of Diseases 9th revision (ICD-9) codes to phenotype codes used in Phenome-Wide Association studies (PheWAS), or trimming data temporal maps.

In the following sections the specific functions that can be used to address each of these tasks are presented.

General workflow for using the EHRtemporalVariability R package

For more information about the methods please check reference [@saez_probabilistic_2015] and the Suplemental Material in [@saez2016applying].


EHRtemporalVariability is provided through CRAN and GitHub. To install the CRAN version the user must type the following commands in an R session:


The GitHub version of the package will, in general, provide the latest updates before these are commited to the CRAN version. In order to install it, devtools package - available in CRAN ( - is required. To install devtools the user must type the following commands in an R session:


Once devtools package has been installed the user can install EHRtemporalVariability typing the following commands in an R session:

library( EHRtemporalVariability )

S4 objects


The DataTemporalMap object contains the statistical distributions of data estimated at a specific time period.

githubURL <- ""
if (httr::http_error(githubURL)) {
      message("URL not accessible or no internet connection.")
} else {
class( probMaps$`diagcode1-phewascode` )

DataTemporalMap object is the output of estimateDataTemporalMap function. It is used as input for plotDataTemporalMap functions.

Note that objects of this class can be generated automatically by the estimateDataTemporalMap function, but its construction and extension is open towards fostering its use through external methods. E.g., one may use additional probability distribution estimation methods, or even contruct compatible DataTemporalMap object for other unstructured data shuch as images or free text.


The IGTProjection object contains the projected non-parametric statistical manifold of a DataTemporalMap object (also included in the object) estimated in a specific number of dimensions.

class( igtProjs$`diagcode1-phewascode` )

IGTProjection object is the output of estimateIGTProjection function. It is used as input for plotIGTProjection functions.

Note that objects of this class are generated automatically by the estimateIGTProjection function.

Data pre-processing

Load the CSV input file

The first step consists on read the CSV file that contains the data for the analysis. To do it, the user can apply the read.csv function.

The read.csv function reads a file in table format and creates a data frame from it, with cases corresponding to lines and variables to fields in the file. It is important to define the class of each column when reading the CSV file.

An example of how to read the CSV file is shown next:

dataset <- read.csv2( "", 
                      sep  = ",",
                      header = TRUE, 
                      na.strings = "", 
                      colClasses = c( "character", "numeric", "factor",
                                      "numeric" , rep( "factor", 22 ) ) )
head( dataset)

Transform the date column in 'Date' R format

The second step will be transform the date column in 'Date' R format. The EHRtemporalVariability R package allows the user to do this transformation applying the formatDate function.

The formatDate function transform the column containing the dates from the given data.frame input, using the following arguments:

The formatDate function output is the same data.frame with the date column transformed.

class( dataset$date )
datasetFormatted <- EHRtemporalVariability::formatDate(
              input         = dataset,
              dateColumn    = "date",
              dateFormat = "%y/%m"
head( datasetFormatted )[1:5, 1:5]
class( datasetFormatted$date )

Transform the ICD9-CM into PheWAS codes

Once the CSV file has been readed and the date column transformed, the third step is to transform the ICD9-CM to PheWAS codes if needed ( [@denny2013systematic].

This step is not mandatory, is an option for those analysis in which ICD9-CM are analyzed and want to be reduced and transformed into PheWAS codes.

The EHRtemporalVariability R package allows the user to do the mapping in an automatic way applying the icd9toPheWAS function.

The icd9toPheWAS map to PheWAS codes using as input a column containing ICD9-CM codes. This function has as input the following arguments:

The icd9toPheWAS function output is the ICD9-CM column transformed into PheWAS codes. In this specific "NHDS" example we will create a new column with the PheWAS codes that map to the diagcode2 column in the original data.frame.

datasetPheWAS <- icd9toPheWAS(data           = datasetFormatted,
                              icd9ColumnName = "diagcode1",
                              phecodeDescription = TRUE,
                              missingValues  = "N/A", 
                              statistics     = TRUE, 
                              replaceColumn  = FALSE)

head( datasetPheWAS[, c( "diagcode1", "diagcode1-phewascode")] )

Data analysis

Estimate data temporal map

The estimateDataTemporalMap function estimates a DataTemporalMap object from a data.frame containing individuals in rows and the variables in columns, being one of these columns the analysis date. This function has as input the following arguments:

Additionally this function has the following optional arguments:

The estimateDataTemporalMap function output is a DataTemporalMap object or a list of DataTemporalMap objects depending on the number of analysis variables.

probMaps <- estimateDataTemporalMap(data           = datasetPheWAS, 
                                    dateColumnName = "date", 
                                    period         = "month")

In the previous specific example, nhds data frame is used as input, with the date column previously formated to Date format. The estimateDataTemporalMap function has been applied to the X variables present in the initial data set. As a result, a list of X DataTemporalMap objects is obtained.

class( probMaps )
class( probMaps[[ 1 ]] )

Variable supports can be set manually for all or some of the variables using the support parameter. The support of those variables not present in the support parameter will be estimated automatically as when the parameter is not passed.

supports <- vector("list",2)
names(supports) <- c("age","diagcode1")
supports[[1]] <- 1:18
supports[[2]] <- c("V3000","042--","07999","1550-","2252-")
probMapsWithSupports <- estimateDataTemporalMap(data           = datasetPheWAS, 
                                    dateColumnName = "date", 
                                    period         = "month",
                                    supports       = supports)

Trim a DataTemporalMap object

Additionally, the EHRtemporalVariability R package contains a function that allows the user to trim any DataTemporalMap object according to a start and end date.

The trimDataTemporalMap function needs as input the following arguments:

The trimDataTemporalMap function output is a new DataTemporalMap object.

class( probMaps[[1]] )
probMapTrimmed <- trimDataTemporalMap( 
                        dataTemporalMap = probMaps[[1]],
                        startDate       = "2005-01-01",
                        endDate         = "2008-12-01"
class( probMapTrimmed )

Estimate IGT projections

The estimateIGTProjection function estimates a IGTProjection object from a DataTemporalMap object. This function has as input the following arguments:

The estimateIGTProjection function output is a IGTProjection object.

igtProj <- estimateIGTProjection( dataTemporalMap = probMaps[[1]], 
                                  dimensions      = 2, 
                                  startDate       = "2000-01-01", 
                                  endDate         = "2010-12-31")

The estimateIGTProjection function can be applied to one DataTemporalMap object. As a result, an IGTProjection object is obtained.

class( igtProj )

The sapply function can be used to apply the estimateIGTProjection function to the output from estimateDataTemporalMap function including more than one variable, which result is a list of DataTemporalMap objects, as follows:

igtProjs <- sapply ( probMaps, estimateIGTProjection )
names( igtProjs ) <- names( probMaps )

Data visualization

EHRtemporalVariability offers two different options to visualize the results, heatmaps and Information Geometric Temporal (IGT) plots. An special focus is made on visualization colors.

The default "Spectral" palette shows a color temperature scheme from blue, through yellow, to red. The four remaining options are better suited for those with colorblindness, including "Viridis", "Magma", and their reversed versions "Viridis-reversed" and "Magma-reversed".

Plot data temporal maps

The plotDataTemporalMap function returns a heatmap or time series plot. This function has as input the following arguments:

To illustrate the next examples we load the example .Rdata file, which contains the results from analyzing the complete "NHDS" dataset.

githubURL <- ""

Heatmap plot

    dataTemporalMap =  probMaps[["diagcode1-phewascode"]],
    startValue = 2,
    endValue = 20,
    colorPalette    = "Spectral")

Time series plot

    dataTemporalMap =  probMaps[["diagcode1-phewascode"]],
    startValue = 2,
    endValue = 10,
    mode = "series")

Plot IGT projections

The plotIGTProjection function returns an interactive Information Geometric Temporal (IGT) plot from an IGTProjection object. This function has as input the following arguments:

    igtProjection   =  igtProjs[["diagcode1-phewascode"]],
    colorPalette    = "Spectral", 
    dimensions      = 2)

An IGT plot visualizes the variability among time batches in a data repository in a 2D or 3D plot. Time batches are positioned as points where the distance between them represents the probabilistic distance between their distributions (currently Jensen-Shannon distance, more distances will be supported in the future).

To track the temporal evolution, temporal batches are labeled to show their date and colored according to their season or period, according to the analysis period, as follows. If period=="year" the label is "yy" (2 digit year) and the color is according to year. If period=="month" the label is "yym" (yy + abbreviatted month) and the color is according to the season (yearly). If period=="week" the label is "yymmw" (yym + ISO week number in 1-2 digit) and the color is according to the season (yearly).

| Month | Abbreviaton | | ------|-------------| | January | J | | February | F | | March | M | | April | a | | May | m | | June | j | | July | x | | August | a | | September | S | | October | O | | November | N | | December | D |

Visualize temporal trajectory {#trajectory}

The plotIGTProjection function allows overlying to both 2D and 3D IGT plots an smoothed trajectory of the information evolution over time, which is calculated with smoothed splines. To plot the trajectory set the trajectory parameter to TRUE.

    igtProjection   =  igtProjs[["diagcode1-phewascode"]],
    colorPalette    = "Spectral", 
    dimensions      = 2,
    trajectory      = TRUE)

Export data for the Shiny app dashboard

The EHRtemporalVariability Shiny app allows loading your own .csv file through simple configuration steps but, however, with limited data pre-processing. Consequently, users can export the DataTemporalHeatmaps and IGTplots generated from the R package as an .RData file for their exporation through the interactive Shiny app dashboard. The export is done as follows (note that both DataTemporalHeatmaps and IGTplots must be lists of same size where the names of their items correspond to the variable names):

names( probMaps )
names( igtProjs )
save(probMaps, igtProjs, file = "myExport.RData")

Interpretation of temporal changes in IGT projections

Types of temporal changes

According to the layout of time batches in IGT projections we define the following four types of temporal changes (quoting text from our previous publication [@saez2018kinematics]):


To ilulstrate this example we will refer to the IGT plot for variable diagcode1-phewascode shown in the temporal trajectory visualization section. In that IGT plot we can find the following changes.

# We set the minimum number of batches in a subgroup as 2 
# We set eps based on the knee of the following KNNdistplot, at around 0.023
# kNNdistplot(igtProj@projection, k = 2, all = FALSE)
igtProj = igtProjs[["diagcode1-phewascode"]]
# We select the 2 first dimensions for consistency with the IGT plot examples above
dbscanResults <- dbscan(igtProj@projection[,c(1,2)], eps = 0.023, minPts = 2)
clusterNames  <- vector(mode = "character", length = 10)
clusterNames[dbscanResults$cluster == 0] <- "Outlier batches"
clusterNames[! dbscanResults$cluster == 0] <- paste("Temporal subgroup",dbscanResults$cluster[! dbscanResults$cluster == 0])
plotly::plot_ly(x = igtProj@projection[,1], y = igtProj@projection[,2],
              color = as.factor(clusterNames),
              type = "scatter", mode = "markers",
              text = paste0("Date: ",igtProj@dataTemporalMap@dates)) %>%
              plotly::config(displaylogo = FALSE)

Note that the sensitivity of the cluster validation can be refined by using IGT projections at 3 or more dimensions, modifying the DBSCAN parameters, or using other clustering algorithms.

Summary of EHRtemporalVariability available functions

| Input Object | EHRtemporalVariability function | Output Generated | | ----------------|-----------------------|---------------------------------------------------| | data.frame | formatDate | Given a data.frame object with a column of dates in 'character' format, it generates a new data.frame object with the dates transformed into "Date" R format.| | data.frame | icd9toPheWAS | Given a data.frame object with a column of ICD9-CM codes, it generates a new data.frame object with the ICD9-CM codes transformed into PheWAS codes | | data.frame | estimateDataTemporalMap | Given a data.frame object containing individuals in rows and the variables in columns, it generates a DataTemporalMap object or a list of DataTemporalMap objects depending on the number of analysis variables | | DataTemporalMap| trimDataTemporalMap | Given a DataTemporalMap object, it generates a trimmed DataTemporalMap object | | DataTemporalMap| estimateIGTProjection | Given a DataTemporalMap object, it generates a IGTProjection object | | DataTemporalMap| plotDataTemporalMap | Given a DataTemporalMap object, it generates an interactive heatmap | | IGTProjection| plotIGTProjection | Given an IGTProjection object, it generates an interactive Information Geometric Temporal (IGT) plot | | IGTProjection| estimateIGTTrajectory | Given anIGTProjection object, it estimates a trajectory of the information temporal evolution in a IGT projection by fitting a cubic smoothing spline |

: (#tab:viz-opt) Functions in EHRtemporalVariability R package


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EHRtemporalVariability documentation built on May 29, 2024, 10:23 a.m.