Assigning disease clusters to people with multiple long-term conditions

Our new study in the Journal of Multimorbidity and Comorbidity sheds light on the challenges of assigning disease clusters to people with multiple long-term conditions

In the world of healthcare, understanding how to manage and treat multiple long-term conditions (MLTC) is a significant challenge. our explores the effectiveness of different strategies for assigning disease clusters to people with MLTCs, aiming to improve our understanding of health outcomes.

The study, a cohort analysis using primary care electronic health records from England, involved a massive sample of over 6.2 million patients. It evaluated the performance of seven different strategies for grouping diseases into clusters, with the aim of predicting mortality, emergency department attendances, and hospital admissions.

What are Disease Clusters?

Disease clusters are groups of conditions that frequently occur together, which may represent underlying shared causes or risk factors. By identifying these clusters, researchers hope to tailor preventive and therapeutic strategies more effectively.

Findings from the Study

We found that while assigning patients to disease clusters could provide a structured way to understand MLTCs, none of the strategies were particularly effective at predicting health-related outcomes when compared to considering each disease individually. Specifically, the method that counted the number of conditions within each cluster performed the best among the cluster-based strategies, but still fell short compared to a disease-specific approach.

This highlights a critical limitation: diseases within the same cluster may not consistently relate to health outcomes, suggesting that the clusters, while useful for some research applications, might not be reliable for predicting patient outcomes.

Implications for Healthcare

The study underscores the complexity of treating individuals with MLTCs. It suggests that while clustering diseases can help in understanding some aspects of multimorbidity, relying solely on these clusters to predict health outcomes might oversimplify the nuances of individual patient conditions.

For healthcare providers and policymakers, these findings emphasize the need for personalized treatment plans that consider the unique combination of diseases each patient has, rather than applying broad cluster-based approaches.

Future Directions

The researchers recommend further exploration into how disease clusters can be used in conjunction with individual disease information to improve health outcome predictions and treatment strategies. This might include integrating machine learning techniques that can handle large datasets and complex variable interactions more effectively.


This study provides valuable insights into the challenges and limitations of using disease clusters as a tool for managing MLTCs. It calls for a more nuanced approach that balances the simplicity of clustering with the complexity of individual patient profiles, ensuring that treatment strategies are both scientifically sound and tailored to meet individual needs.

For healthcare systems, continuing to invest in research that refines our understanding of MLTCs will be crucial for developing more effective and personalized approaches to treatment and care management in the future.