Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
min read

Clinical NLP - How to Apply NLP for EHR Optimization

Discover how NLP can facilitate EHR optimization by processing unstructured practitioner notes and extracting valuable clinical data.
Pinakin Ariwala
Pinakin Ariwala
Updated on Dec 05/2023
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
min read
Clinical NLP - How to Apply NLP for EHR Optimization
Discover how NLP can facilitate EHR optimization by processing unstructured practitioner notes and extracting valuable clinical data.
image
Pinakin Ariwala
Updated on Dec 05/2023
Table of contents
What is an EHR (Electronic Health Record)?
Why Do We Need NLP for EHRs in Healthcare?
How Can Clinical NLP Benefit EHR Processing?
NLP Methods for EHR Optimization - Boosting Clinical Documentation Using NLP
Challenges in Implementing NLP Programs
Challenges with EHRs Automation
Clinical NLP - The Future of EHR Optimization
How Maruti Techlabs Used NLP to Accelerate EHR Processing
Concluding Thoughts
FAQs

Care coordination for health providers has been largely eased with the help of EHRs (Electronic Health Records). But with 70% of clinically relevant data being stored in practitioner notes in the EHRs, care coordination needs more than just EHRs.

Due to the lack of structure and uniformity in such practitioner notes, drawing insights from the data stored in EHRs is still a major challenge. It can be largely solved by EHR intelligence and EHR optimization. And this is where NLP in healthcare comes in.

NLP (Natural Language Processing) provides a computational approach to synthesizing such content. Simply put, clinical NLP helps unlock the valuable insights contained within EHR data, leading to improved patient outcomes and overall healthcare quality.

What is an EHR (Electronic Health Record)?

An Electronic Health Record (EHR) is a digital version of a patient's health information. It contains comprehensive and up-to-date records of a patient's medical history, diagnoses, medications, allergies, test results, and other important health-related information.

EHRs are designed to provide a more comprehensive view of a patient's health status by integrating data from various sources, such as hospital records, physician notes, lab test results, and imaging studies.

Why Do We Need NLP for EHRs in Healthcare?

NLP for EHR (Electronic Health Record) or clinical NLP is beneficial as a significant amount of vital medical data is stored in unstructured free text fields within EHRs.

Since these are unstructured free text, there is little to no standardization of content, format, or quality. Hence, converting these unstructured free text fields into valuable, quantifiable data is challenging.

Clinical NLP can be used to analyze free text fields in electronic health records by training algorithms to identify important information based on patterns and rules learned from a large volume of EHR notes.

Additionally, NLP techniques can capture unstructured data, analyze the grammatical structure, and determine the meaning of the information.

To summarize, clinical natural language processing is a promising approach to rapidly analyzing massive amounts of EHR notes, extracting quantitative data, and providing insights.

How Can Clinical NLP Benefit EHR Processing?

Clinical NLP Benefit EHR Processing

1. Extracting Data from Medical Notes

Most medical writing is free-form, full of jargon and acronyms, and may have typographical or spelling errors. Since there is no universal vocabulary of medical acronyms, their meanings are not always clear or easily understandable.

Algorithms utilizing clinical NLP in EHR automation extract vital information from clinical notes, such as diagnoses, recommendations, timetables, and false symptoms.

2. Categorizing Clinical Data

Once the relevant information is extracted, it is organized according to various categories like patient demographics, medical history, and current medical issues for easier access and analysis.

This can facilitate systematic research and help healthcare providers make more informed decisions based on the available data.

3. Summarizing Text

Clinical NLP can also be used to summarize vast amounts of data extracted from clinical notes.

With the ability to analyze the grammatical structure and categorize the text, NLP algorithms can create concise summaries of clinical notes for a group of patients. This can help researchers and physicians quickly identify medical symptoms and treatments.

4. Enhancing Phenotyping Potential

A phenotype is the outward manifestation of a genetic characteristic in an organism, which can include physical appearance, behavior, and bodily functions. Doctors use phenotyping to group patients and compare data easily. Structured data is preferred for phenotyping because it is easy to extract and analyze.

However, despite the preference for structured data, around 80% of all patient data remains unstructured, making it difficult to use for phenotyping. Clinical NLP can extract and analyze unstructured patient data. This facilitates the creation of phenotypes for patient groups with a large amount of data. 

5. Data Visualization for Chart Analysis

Chart reviews often necessitate the knowledge and experience of a Registered Nurse (RN) because they include reading through several reports on a patient to get a comprehensive understanding of the patient's medical history. 

To help doctors quickly understand a patient's medical history, clinical NLP summarizes and visually represents information for the chart review.

6. Identifying Patient Groups for Testing

Patients for clinical trials have typically been selected by more time-consuming and error-prone techniques, such as manually checking medical records. If the condition is uncommon, there are even fewer patients available.

NLP technology integrated within EHRs is efficient for e-screening and patient cohort identification, as it recognizes keywords and displays relevant information to experts.

7. Supporting Administrative Tasks

Clinical NLP aids in healthcare administrative tasks, like making follow-up calls after a patient's visit to a doctor.

By extracting essential information from reports and creating patient profiles, clinical NLP can assist in determining appropriate follow-up recommendations.

8. Improving Standard of Care

Healthcare practitioners can effectively manage patient care by electronically communicating health information across multiple systems. 

EHRs facilitate easy retrieval of medical history and make the invoicing and coding processes more streamlined.

NLP Methods for EHR Optimization - Boosting Clinical Documentation Using NLP

NLP Methods for EHR Optimization

1. Classification

a. Medical Text Classification

Automatic medical text classification is one of the NLP technologies that extract information integrated into medical records. Machine Learning methods in healthcare are beneficial for medical text classification jobs.

b. Segmentation

Text segmentation is the method of dividing a text document into coherent and meaningful adjacent sections. This task is vital for NLP apps like question-answering, context understanding, and summarization.

c. Word-Sense Disambiguation

Word-Sense Disambiguation (WSD) is an approach to identifying the intended meaning of a word in a given context or sentence. It brings clarity of communication and makes EHR automation more effective.

d. Medical Coding

It is uprooting billable information from a medical record and translating it into standardized codes utilized for medical billing. Using electronic health records can resolve human errors and improve the reliability of results.

e. Medical Outcome Prediction

Medical output prediction from the medical text can avert doctors from overlooking viable threats and enable the hospital to organize capacities. The practical approach should surmise results based on a patient's risk factors, symptoms, and pre-conditions.

f. De-identification

It is an intense technology to empower the usage of unformed medical text while securing patients' confidentiality and privacy. The medical NLP community has invested enormous efforts in creating approaches and entities for de-identifying medical notes.

2. Embedding

a. Medical Concept Embeddings

Medical notions in EMR data are embedded with the time stamps. The worldly information in EMR data can ease clinical concepts associating by enhancing the concealed rendition of contexts.

b. Visiting Embeddings

Electronic health records in healthcare hold information on patients' healthcare over several visits, such as drug prescriptions, disease findings, solutions, etc. The enormous potential of such data in the healthcare arena is vast.

c. Patient Embeddings

These are other methods to take benefit of EHR comprehension and secondary use and help in better result prediction and decision-making.

d. BERT-based Embeddings

BERT controls the strength of transformers to create decent word embeddings than previously. Embeddings derive ailing to text from particular domains like biomedicine.

3. Extraction

a. Named Entity Recognition (NER)

NER, also termed entity identification, entity extraction, and entity chunking, is a part of information extraction which involves identifying and extracting specific entities (such as medical codes, names of people, places, organizations, etc.) in unstructured text data.

b. Entity Linking

Entity linking, also termed named entity disambiguation and recognition and named entity normalization, is the task of giving an unmatched identity to entities described in the text.

c. Relation and Event Extraction

This task identifies embedded entities via a connected fitting particular relation sort. It is typical in healthcare as an NLP should adapt the relationships between different clinical entities to understand the patients' records thoroughly.

d. Medication Information Extraction

Medical information extraction is one of the vital kinds of medical data in electronic health records. It evaluates healthcare quality, safety, and clinical research utilizing the data in electronic health records.

we helped a healthcare provider reduce data processing time b 87% how?4. Generation

a. EHR Generation

Natural Language Generation (NLG) is a widely adapted component of an NLP. Regarding EHR automation, NLG is used to make perfect medical text from existing medical documents. EHR intelligence is profoundly vital in the medical domain due to the uneasiness of EHR's confidentiality and accessibility.

b. Summarization

Healthcare experts and researchers deal with enormous numbers of electronic health records daily. Text summarization, the essential task in clinical NLP, could minimize their jobs by confining documents into readable summaries.

c. Medical Language Translation

Medical translation is one of the practices in NLP used for translating various documents, drug data sheets, medical bulletins, training materials, etc.- for marketing, medical devices, healthcare, or technical, regulatory, and clinical documentation.

5. Other Topics

a. Question Answering

Question Answering (QA) is the assignment of interpreting normal language questions and answering suitably matched answers. Open-domain QA frameworks have had recent success with pre-prepared language models. Yet, these outcomes have not extended to biomedical QA due to its domain-centered difficulties.

b. Knowledge Graphs

The core of the knowledge graph is a knowledge model: a stack of interconnected descriptions of events, relationships, concepts, and entities. Knowledge graphs put information in the setting by means of connecting semantic metadata and, this way, offer a framework for data analytics, unification, integration, and sharing.

c. Medical Dialogs

Medical dialogs, i.e., the conversations or exchanges between healthcare providers and their patients, are a reliable source of information for caregivers and patients. Natural Language Understanding (NLU) research on doctor-patient dialogues has potential implications for automatic scribing and automatic health coaching applications.

d. Multilinguality

Multilingualism, as the name suggests, is the utilization of more than one language, either by a group of speakers or an individual speaker. It is accepted that multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers worldwide.

e. Interpretability

Interpretability refers to the ability to understand and predict the results of a system or algorithm based on its inputs and parameters. It allows users to see how and why a system makes certain decisions or predictions and make adjustments if necessary.

f. Applications in Public Health

Public healthcare service providers have one more source to revise while seeking information, persuasive material, or data that will enable them to protect and promote public health.

Additional Read - Working & Application of Sentiment Analysis

Challenges in Implementing NLP Programs

Despite NLP's ability to process large amounts of text data and derive meaningful insights, developing highly accurate NLP programs that can effectively process free text in a clinically-meaningful way remains a challenge. Some of them include-

Challenges in Implementing NLP Programs

1. Relevance of Words in Context and Homophones

Many terms, especially in English, have similar pronunciations but entirely different meanings. The meaning of a given word or phrase can change based on the context of its use.

Homonyms, or pairs of words that share a pronunciation but not meaning, can confuse question-answering and speech-to-text systems. Even humans find it hard to distinguish words like "their" and "there."

2. Syntax and Grammar Subtleties

Accurately interpreting language syntax and grammar can be a major challenge. For instance, the period after "Dr." does not necessarily indicate the end of a sentence.

3. Identifying Meaningful Phrases

It can be difficult for NLP algorithms to identify the start and end of meaningful phrases. 

For example, identifying the meaning between similar terms like "irritable" and "extremely irritable."

4. Domain-Specific Vocabulary

The jargon used in various sectors of the economy might vary widely from one another. In contrast to the NLP processing model used for legal documents, the one required in the healthcare industry would be somewhat different.

While many specialized analysis tools are available today, businesses operating in very specialist areas may still need to develop and prepare their algorithms.

5. Languages With Few Resources 

Most NLP applications using AI machine learning have been developed for the most generally spoken languages. It is pretty remarkable how much progress has been made in the effectiveness of machine translation.

Many languages, however, particularly those expressed by individuals with limited access to technology, often go neglected and inadequately processed. For instance, there are approximately 3,000 languages in Africa alone, but there isn't much information on many.

6. Inadequate Research and Development

To reach its full potential, machine learning needs access to vast amounts of data, ideally billions of examples to learn from. As more information is used to train NLP models, the more sophisticated they become.

Training NLP models can be arduous and may require external assistance from experienced natural language processing consultants.

However, new forms of machine learning and bespoke algorithms are being developed daily to deal with the ever-increasing volumes of data.

7. Inaccuracies in Speech and Text

Words spelled incorrectly or used in the wrong context can hinder text analysis. Common typos can be corrected by autocorrect and grammar checkers, but they don't always catch on to what the writer means to say. 

EHR intelligence algorithms have difficulty grasping spoken language because of mispronunciations, accents, stutters, etc.

Challenges with EHRs Automation

If you are new to EHR automation, knowing what you are getting into is important. Implementing and automating EHRs is a significant investment - both in terms of time and cost. Here’s a brief list of challenges so you know what to expect.

Challenges with EHRs Automation

1. Implementation Cost

The expense of EHR integration is a significant deterrent for healthcare businesses. Nonetheless, it appears to be a good investment thus far. Optimal system implementation increases profits while decreasing expenses and improving productivity.

2. Training takes Time

Professionals need in-depth training on the new workflow before implementing electronic health records. Clinicians and the rest of the medical staff must invest more time in learning the new system to implement it effectively.

3. Securing Confidential Information

Patients' and doctors' worries about publicly sharing their personal information is another significant barrier to adopting EHR optimization systems. The potential for data leaking due to a cyber assault is a frequent concern for clinical practitioners.

4. Lack of Functionality

Clinicians have trouble adjusting to an electronic health record system if it doesn't mesh well with their current procedures. The EHR optimization system cannot be designed with a one-size-fits-all mentality, as the workflow of a therapist differs significantly from that of a cardiologist. Design defects and inadequate training compromise the usability of EHR automation software.

5. Interoperability

Patients' medical records can be easily shared with their doctors and hospitals through interoperability. Due to the absence of interoperability, it can be challenging to determine what medical problem necessitates treatment.

Clinical NLP - The Future of EHR Optimization

Natural language processing has numerous possible uses in the medical field. By converting free-form text into structured data, natural language processing may improve the thoroughness and precision of electronic health records, significantly contributing to EHR optimization.

This way, it is possible to populate data warehouses and semantic data lakes with valuable data that can be queried using NLP tools. Providers may be able to dictate their notes into the system, streamlining recordkeeping, and it may also be able to produce individualized discharge education materials for patients, boosting EHR usability greatly.

But perhaps most immediately relevant is that NLP in healthcare can and is being utilized for clinical decision support, which is of tremendous interest to clinicians in dire need of point-of-care answers for highly complicated patient issues.

The gap between the inconceivable volume of data created daily and the human brain's limited processing power may one day be closed using clinical natural language processing techniques.

EHR automation may be transformed from a burden to a blessing by clinical NLP, which applies to anything from the most cutting-edge medical applications to the simplest process of coding a claim for billing and payment.

Accurate, clever, and healthcare-specific algorithms will be essential, as will the design of user interfaces that make clinical decision-support data digestible. It may be difficult to fully realize the potential of NLP in EHR automation if it doesn't achieve these two aims of extraction and display.

How Maruti Techlabs Used NLP to Accelerate EHR Processing

  • About the Client

UCHealth, a customer of Maruti Techlabs, is one of the primary healthcare service providers in the UK, overseeing a vast network of medical facilities.

Not just general medical centers, but UCHealth also oversees diagnostic centers and pharmacies. They improve the effectiveness and availability of medical treatment.

  • The Challenge

A large number of discharge, referral, and follow-up letters would be written by physicians at these hospitals and clinics daily. UCHealth's data teams would need to manually review, categorize, and update the data from these diagnostic letters into specified categories to keep patient records up to date.

Since there was such a large quantity of letters, a sizable crew was assembled to examine them and hand files the data into UKHealth's HIMSS database. Manually entering and organizing the data into the appropriate systems took much time and effort. As a result, there was a fair likelihood of mistakes or disparities.

  • The Solution

Based on the vast number of letters that would otherwise need to be read and manually sorted, Maruti Techlabs developed a machine-learning model to automatically extract the data from the letters and sort them into one of three predetermined categories.

The ML team came up with a 2-stage procedure for text extraction and identification to accomplish this goal:

1. The Use of OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to Extract Text:

The machine learning algorithm first required a massive volume of diagnostic letters to be sorted and converted into a structured dataset.

First, they had to scan all the diagnostic letters and save them as electronic files. They used Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to teach the text extraction model to detect and analyze text from these digital files.

The computer examined the correspondence's structure and extracted components like text, photos, tables, etc. After the characters had been isolated, the model moved on to the next phase: NLP-based identification.

2. Natural Language Processing (NLP) for Phrase Detection:

Next, they had to provide the model with a way to understand the extracted text and sort the characters appropriately. They developed an NLP algorithm for this purpose. The model could convert words and phrases into numerical vectors (indicating the meaning of the words) and then match those vectors to the appropriate entities using natural language processing. 

The ML model learned to recognize statements like "see you in three months," "totally discharged," "not necessary to meet again," etc., in their respective contexts. To streamline the updating and administration of patient information, the team incorporated the complete machine learning model into the client's centralized HIMS.

Read - Deep Neural Networks Addressing Challenges in Computer Vision

Concluding Thoughts

Electronic Health Records (EHR) in healthcare is a state-of-the-art method that perfectly facilitates and streamlines maintaining medical records by digitizing all allied documents.

By reinforcing EHR intelligence with clinical NLP, the EHR system can give additional benefits so that healthcare service providers can make the most relevant decisions based on remarkable clinical data. 

Maruti Techlabs offers state-of-art clinical NLP services. Our Natural Language Processing (NLP) services offer sentiment analysis, entity extraction, intent classification, and text categorization.

We have proven expertise in different disciplines of machine learning and artificial intelligence, such as NLP, deep learning, computer vision, and cognitive computing. With the right combination of technologies and skills, we have helped companies worldwide process unstructured data and determine the underlying meaning of the words.

Connect with us to optimize your EHRs and be a better care provider!

FAQs

1. What is an electronic health record?

It's a computerized database that includes a person's health records, such as a patient's diagnosis, medications, lab results, allergies, vaccines, treatment plans, and other relevant health information in digital form.

2. Why do we need NLP in healthcare for electronic health records?

Natural Language Processing, often known as NLP, offers some exciting and one-of-a-kind possibilities in healthcare. It makes it possible to navigate the large quantity of new data and use it to its full potential to improve outcomes, save costs, and provide a great level of care.

3. What are the challenges in electronic health records?

The deployment and use of recent developments in health information technology, such as Electronic Health Records (EHRs), may be prohibitively costly. Finding the money to spend on training, support, and even the physical infrastructure may be a typical obstacle, particularly for practices that are not as large.

4. What are the benefits of EHR automation?

The advantages of using electronic health records (EHR) automation include better health care. All facets of patient care, such as safety, efficacy, patient-centeredness, communication, education, timeliness, efficiency, and equity, are improved due to the use of these records.

5. What is an EMR in healthcare?

In places like doctors' offices, clinics, and hospitals, Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) have replaced paper charts. EMR optimization is primarily utilized for diagnostic purposes, and as such, they include notes and information gathered by and for the physicians at that office, clinic, or hospital.

6. What are the different EHR intelligence systems?

There are several methods EHR optimization systems are configured. Each way has its pros and cons, depending on the unique needs of medical practice.

a. Physician-HSystemosted 

In these systems, all data is hosted on the own servers of physicians. They are responsible for buying their hardware and software and maintaining the server's security and maintenance. These systems are advantageous for larger practices, and on-site servers can speed up the EHR intelligence system. 

b. Remotely-Hosted System

A remotely-hosted system means managing data with a third party. This system lets physicians focus on collecting the information, not its storage. Therefore, a remote-hosted system eliminates the IT headache of physicians and helps them keep their patients' care more attentive.

The remote system has three different varieties.

  1. Subsidized: Subsidized EHR systems are connected to a hospital or entity that helps cover the optimization cost and manages legal issues related to data ownership and antitrust concerns.
  2. Dedicated: This system involves storing electronic health records on vendors' servers located at specific locations. However, healthcare providers may have limited control over the data management in this system.
  3. Cloud: The doctors can store data in the cloud. Therefore, their data will always be secured on time and easily accessible through the cloud system.

Pinakin Ariwala
About the author
Pinakin Ariwala


Pinakin is the VP of Data Science and Technology at Maruti Techlabs. With about two decades of experience leading diverse teams and projects, his technological competence is unmatched.

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