A clinical text classification paradigm using weak supervision and deep representation 08 Information and Computing Sciences 0801 Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing 17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences 1702 Cognitive Sciences

Yanshan Wang, Sunghwan Sohn, Sijia Liu, Feichen Shen, Liwei Wang, Elizabeth J. Atkinson, Shreyasee Amin, Hongfang Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations


Background: Automatic clinical text classification is a natural language processing (NLP) technology that unlocks information embedded in clinical narratives. Machine learning approaches have been shown to be effective for clinical text classification tasks. However, a successful machine learning model usually requires extensive human efforts to create labeled training data and conduct feature engineering. In this study, we propose a clinical text classification paradigm using weak supervision and deep representation to reduce these human efforts. Methods: We develop a rule-based NLP algorithm to automatically generate labels for the training data, and then use the pre-trained word embeddings as deep representation features for training machine learning models. Since machine learning is trained on labels generated by the automatic NLP algorithm, this training process is called weak supervision. We evaluat the paradigm effectiveness on two institutional case studies at Mayo Clinic: smoking status classification and proximal femur (hip) fracture classification, and one case study using a public dataset: the i2b2 2006 smoking status classification shared task. We test four widely used machine learning models, namely, Support Vector Machine (SVM), Random Forest (RF), Multilayer Perceptron Neural Networks (MLPNN), and Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN), using this paradigm. Precision, recall, and F1 score are used as metrics to evaluate performance. Results: CNN achieves the best performance in both institutional tasks (F1 score: 0.92 for Mayo Clinic smoking status classification and 0.97 for fracture classification). We show that word embeddings significantly outperform tf-idf and topic modeling features in the paradigm, and that CNN captures additional patterns from the weak supervision compared to the rule-based NLP algorithms. We also observe two drawbacks of the proposed paradigm that CNN is more sensitive to the size of training data, and that the proposed paradigm might not be effective for complex multiclass classification tasks. Conclusion: The proposed clinical text classification paradigm could reduce human efforts of labeled training data creation and feature engineering for applying machine learning to clinical text classification by leveraging weak supervision and deep representation. The experimental experiments have validated the effectiveness of paradigm by two institutional and one shared clinical text classification tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 7 2019



  • Clinical text classification
  • Electronic health records
  • Machine learning
  • Natural language processing
  • Weak supervision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health Informatics

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