Objective: This paper describes the University of Michigan's nine-year experience in developing and using a full-text search engine designed to facilitate information retrieval (IR) from narrative documents stored in electronic health records (EHRs). The system, called the Electronic Medical Record Search Engine (EMERSE), functions similar to Google but is equipped with special functionalities for handling challenges unique to retrieving information from medical text.
Materials and methods: Key features that distinguish EMERSE from general-purpose search engines are discussed, with an emphasis on functions crucial to (1) improving medical IR performance and (2) assuring search quality and results consistency regardless of users' medical background, stage of training, or level of technical expertise.
Results: Since its initial deployment, EMERSE has been enthusiastically embraced by clinicians, administrators, and clinical and translational researchers. To date, the system has been used in supporting more than 750 research projects yielding 80 peer-reviewed publications. In several evaluation studies, EMERSE demonstrated very high levels of sensitivity and specificity in addition to greatly improved chart review efficiency.
Discussion: Increased availability of electronic data in healthcare does not automatically warrant increased availability of information. The success of EMERSE at our institution illustrates that free-text EHR search engines can be a valuable tool to help practitioners and researchers retrieve information from EHRs more effectively and efficiently, enabling critical tasks such as patient case synthesis and research data abstraction.
Conclusion: EMERSE, available free of charge for academic use, represents a state-of-the-art medical IR tool with proven effectiveness and user acceptance.
Keywords: Electronic health records (E05.318.308.940.968.625.500); Information storage and retrieval (L01.470); Search engine (L01.470.875).
Copyright © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.