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Open Access Research article

Redundancy in electronic health record corpora: analysis, impact on text mining performance and mitigation strategies

Raphael Cohen1*, Michael Elhadad1 and Noémie Elhadad2

Author affiliations

1 Department of Computer Science, Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel

2 Department of Biomedical Informatics, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:10  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-10

Published: 16 January 2013

Abstract

Background

The increasing availability of Electronic Health Record (EHR) data and specifically free-text patient notes presents opportunities for phenotype extraction. Text-mining methods in particular can help disease modeling by mapping named-entities mentions to terminologies and clustering semantically related terms. EHR corpora, however, exhibit specific statistical and linguistic characteristics when compared with corpora in the biomedical literature domain. We focus on copy-and-paste redundancy: clinicians typically copy and paste information from previous notes when documenting a current patient encounter. Thus, within a longitudinal patient record, one expects to observe heavy redundancy. In this paper, we ask three research questions: (i) How can redundancy be quantified in large-scale text corpora? (ii) Conventional wisdom is that larger corpora yield better results in text mining. But how does the observed EHR redundancy affect text mining? Does such redundancy introduce a bias that distorts learned models? Or does the redundancy introduce benefits by highlighting stable and important subsets of the corpus? (iii) How can one mitigate the impact of redundancy on text mining?

Results

We analyze a large-scale EHR corpus and quantify redundancy both in terms of word and semantic concept repetition. We observe redundancy levels of about 30% and non-standard distribution of both words and concepts. We measure the impact of redundancy on two standard text-mining applications: collocation identification and topic modeling. We compare the results of these methods on synthetic data with controlled levels of redundancy and observe significant performance variation. Finally, we compare two mitigation strategies to avoid redundancy-induced bias: (i) a baseline strategy, keeping only the last note for each patient in the corpus; (ii) removing redundant notes with an efficient fingerprinting-based algorithm. aFor text mining, preprocessing the EHR corpus with fingerprinting yields significantly better results.

Conclusions

Before applying text-mining techniques, one must pay careful attention to the structure of the analyzed corpora. While the importance of data cleaning has been known for low-level text characteristics (e.g., encoding and spelling), high-level and difficult-to-quantify corpus characteristics, such as naturally occurring redundancy, can also hurt text mining. Fingerprinting enables text-mining techniques to leverage available data in the EHR corpus, while avoiding the bias introduced by redundancy.