Linguamatics NLP platform supports medical research and patient care delivery

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is used to transform text and unstructured data into valuable, real-life, outcomes. Generally in healthcare NLP is still in a relatively early stage of adoption. However, some organizations are moving forward towards full success in using NLP to deliver enhanced healthcare research and clinical processes.

Walter Niemczura, the director of application development at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, is one of the individuals driving the ongoing initiative to improve healthcare research. Niemczura began working with Linguamatics seven years ago, in order to identify patients with certain characteristics that were well represented in unstructured clinical notes from Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Niemczura realized that the discrete data they had been working with wasn’t going to be enough to really advance and support research and patient care efforts.

"Linguamatics NLP was a huge time-saver. When you’re looking at hundreds of thousands or millions of patient records, the value might be not the ones you have to look at, but the ones you don’t have to look at." Walter Niemczura, director of application development, Drexel University College of Medicine

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah is a nationally recognized cancer center that relies heavily on data for its research studies. Because a vast amount of critical patient information is stored in unstructured formats such as clinical notes and pathology reports, finding specific data is often challenging, to say the least—not to mention costly and time consuming.

For years, HCI had compiled information manually or with rudimentary Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools, but surely there was a better way?

After encountering Linguamatics at an informatics conference and learning more about its NLP tools and Linguamatics text mining solution, the HCI research informatics team realized that this is what it had been searching for. To test the system, HCI used Linguamatics NLP platform in a project on breast cancer; it found that data capture was much, much faster, and using NLP improved access to higher quality data.

Since that initial success, HCI has expanded its use of the platform and developed NLP tools for multiple other conditions. It can now provide investigators with the quality data they need when applying for grants, writing papers, or identifying cohorts for specific studies. HCI has also been able to share data and collaborate with other institutions, to advance research and enhance disease understanding, and ultimately achieve better patient outcomes.

We don’t know what we don’t know. 

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”

– Thomas A. Edison

Recently I had the honor to spend some time with some amazing people that are committed to quality in healthcare at the at 2018 HQI Conference in Huntington Beach- yes the sacrifices I must make- what an amazing venue! There, I learned that most of the attendants have been doing their reporting for quality via long hours of manual effort. I look at this in two ways…

1) I applaud such valiant efforts to achieve something worthwhile; and

2) are they unaware that technology can decrease their burden? These hard working professionals certainly cover the hard work and stick-to-itiveness. As for the third essential, this isn’t a case of a lack of common sense, it’s simply a case of…”we don’t know what we don’t know”.  

How do you ensure healthcare quality when the priority is quantity?

Data is everywhere. When it comes to data, what is one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure. It simply has to do with what question you have to ask. And when it comes to quality and reporting metrics it’s best to listen to the experts.  The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) exists to improve the quality of health care...they even say so on their web page.

Pondering DNA at The Eagle, Cambridge

I was recently privileged to have a pint of Guinness at the Eagle in Cambridge with some colleagues after work in our U.K. office. The Eagle is a historically significant pub in the area of DNA. Two things came to mind: 1) What is it with the number 51 and controversies? Area 51 and Photo 51 both bring up their own issues...and if we combine the two it would get really interesting...Alien DNA. Now that would be a good pub conversation! Especially here at the Eagle, where James Watson and Francis Crick theorized DNA’s helical structure. And 2) I wish Rosalind Franklin could have lived to see how things are evolving in precision medicine.