Extraction of Geriatric Syndromes From Electronic Health Record Clinical Notes: Assessment of Statistical Natural Language Processing Methods

JMIR Med Inform. 2019 Mar 26;7(1):e13039. doi: 10.2196/13039.


Background: Geriatric syndromes in older adults are associated with adverse outcomes. However, despite being reported in clinical notes, these syndromes are often poorly captured by diagnostic codes in the structured fields of electronic health records (EHRs) or administrative records.

Objective: We aim to automatically determine if a patient has any geriatric syndromes by mining the free text of associated EHR clinical notes. We assessed which statistical natural language processing (NLP) techniques are most effective.

Methods: We applied conditional random fields (CRFs), a widely used machine learning algorithm, to identify each of 10 geriatric syndrome constructs in a clinical note. We assessed three sets of features and attributes for CRF operations: a base set, enhanced token, and contextual features. We trained the CRF on 3901 manually annotated notes from 85 patients, tuned the CRF on a validation set of 50 patients, and evaluated it on 50 held-out test patients. These notes were from a group of US Medicare patients over 65 years of age enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Health Maintenance Organization and cared for by a large group practice in Massachusetts.

Results: A final feature set was formed through comprehensive feature ablation experiments. The final CRF model performed well at patient-level determination (macroaverage F1=0.834, microaverage F1=0.851); however, performance varied by construct. For example, at phrase-partial evaluation, the CRF model worked well on constructs such as absence of fecal control (F1=0.857) and vision impairment (F1=0.798) but poorly on malnutrition (F1=0.155), weight loss (F1=0.394), and severe urinary control issues (F1=0.532). Errors were primarily due to previously unobserved words (ie, out-of-vocabulary) and a lack of context.

Conclusions: This study shows that statistical NLP can be used to identify geriatric syndromes from EHR-extracted clinical notes. This creates new opportunities to identify patients with geriatric syndromes and study their health outcomes.

Keywords: clinical notes; conditional random fields; geriatrics; information extraction; natural language processing.