Clinical documentation variations and NLP system portability: a case study in asthma birth cohorts across institutions

J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2018 Mar 1;25(3):353-359. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocx138.


Objective: To assess clinical documentation variations across health care institutions using different electronic medical record systems and investigate how they affect natural language processing (NLP) system portability.

Materials and methods: Birth cohorts from Mayo Clinic and Sanford Children's Hospital (SCH) were used in this study (n = 298 for each). Documentation variations regarding asthma between the 2 cohorts were examined in various aspects: (1) overall corpus at the word level (ie, lexical variation), (2) topics and asthma-related concepts (ie, semantic variation), and (3) clinical note types (ie, process variation). We compared those statistics and explored NLP system portability for asthma ascertainment in 2 stages: prototype and refinement.

Results: There exist notable lexical variations (word-level similarity = 0.669) and process variations (differences in major note types containing asthma-related concepts). However, semantic-level corpora were relatively homogeneous (topic similarity = 0.944, asthma-related concept similarity = 0.971). The NLP system for asthma ascertainment had an F-score of 0.937 at Mayo, and produced 0.813 (prototype) and 0.908 (refinement) when applied at SCH.

Discussion: The criteria for asthma ascertainment are largely dependent on asthma-related concepts. Therefore, we believe that semantic similarity is important to estimate NLP system portability. As the Mayo Clinic and SCH corpora were relatively homogeneous at a semantic level, the NLP system, developed at Mayo Clinic, was imported to SCH successfully with proper adjustments to deal with the intrinsic corpus heterogeneity.

Keywords: asthma; documentation variation; electronic medical records; natural language processing; portability.