The use of Natural language processing (NLP) in enabling high-quality clinical research

Much of the knowledge and information needed for enabling high-quality clinical research is stored in free-text format. Natural language processing (NLP) has been used to extract information from these sources at scale for several decades. This paper aims to present a comprehensive review of clinical NLP for the past 15 years in the UK to identify the community, depict its evolution, analyse methodologies and applications, and identify the main barriers.

Results show, not surprisingly, clinical NLP in the UK has increased substantially in the last 15 years: the total budget in the period of 2019–2022 was 80 times that of 2007–2010. However, the effort is required to deepen areas such as disease (sub-)phenotyping and broaden application domains. There is also a need to improve links between academia and industry and enable deployments in real-world settings for the realisation of clinical NLP’s great potential in care delivery. The major barriers include research and development access to hospital data, lack of capable computational resources in the right places, the scarcity of labelled data and barriers to sharing of pretrained models.

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