Springer Nature

Combining unsupervised, supervised and rule-based learning: the case of detecting patient allergies in electronic health records

Posted on 2023-09-19 - 03:21
Abstract Background Data mining of electronic health records (EHRs) has a huge potential for improving clinical decision support and to help healthcare deliver precision medicine. Unfortunately, the rule-based and machine learning-based approaches used for natural language processing (NLP) in healthcare today all struggle with various shortcomings related to performance, efficiency, or transparency. Methods In this paper, we address these issues by presenting a novel method for NLP that implements unsupervised learning of word embeddings, semi-supervised learning for simplified and accelerated clinical vocabulary and concept building, and deterministic rules for fine-grained control of information extraction. The clinical language is automatically learnt, and vocabulary, concepts, and rules supporting a variety of NLP downstream tasks can further be built with only minimal manual feature engineering and tagging required from clinical experts. Together, these steps create an open processing pipeline that gradually refines the data in a transparent way, which greatly improves the interpretable nature of our method. Data transformations are thus made transparent and predictions interpretable, which is imperative for healthcare. The combined method also has other advantages, like potentially being language independent, demanding few domain resources for maintenance, and able to cover misspellings, abbreviations, and acronyms. To test and evaluate the combined method, we have developed a clinical decision support system (CDSS) named Information System for Clinical Concept Searching (ICCS) that implements the method for clinical concept tagging, extraction, and classification. Results In empirical studies the method shows high performance (recall 92.6%, precision 88.8%, F-measure 90.7%), and has demonstrated its value to clinical practice. Here we employ a real-life EHR-derived dataset to evaluate the method’s performance on the task of classification (i.e., detecting patient allergies) against a range of common supervised learning algorithms. The combined method achieves state-of-the-art performance compared to the alternative methods we evaluate. We also perform a qualitative analysis of common word embedding methods on the task of word similarity to examine their potential for supporting automatic feature engineering for clinical NLP tasks. Conclusions Based on the promising results, we suggest more research should be aimed at exploiting the inherent synergies between unsupervised, supervised, and rule-based paradigms for clinical NLP.


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