Test strategies for cost-sensitive decision trees

Charles X. Ling, Victor S. Sheng, Qiang Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations


In medical diagnosis, doctors must often determine what medical tests (e.g., X-ray and blood tests) should be ordered for a patient to minimize the total cost of medical tests and misdiagnosis. In this paper, we design cost-sensitive machine learning algorithms to model this learning and diagnosis process. Medical tests are like attributes in machine learning whose values may be obtained at a cost (attribute cost), and misdiagnoses are like misclassifications which may also incur a cost (misclassification cost). We first propose a lazy decision tree learning algorithm that minimizes the sum of attribute costs and misclassification costs. Then, we design several novel "test strategies" that can request to obtain values of unknown attributes at a cost (similar to doctors' ordering of medical tests at a cost) in order to minimize the total cost for test examples (new patients). These test strategies correspond to different situations in real-world diagnoses. We empirically evaluate these test strategies, and show that they are effective and outperform previous methods. Our results can be readily applied to real-world diagnosis tasks. A case study on heart disease is given throughout the paper.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1644729
Pages (from-to)1055-1067
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Knowledge and Data Engineering
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2006


  • Classification
  • Concept learning
  • Induction
  • Mining methods and algorithms


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