Why Is Natural Language Processing Needed In Healthcare?

Why Is Natural Language Processing Needed In Healthcare?

NLP (Natural language processing) does not only stand for neuro-linguistic programming, but also natural language processing. In this article I will try to answer the following questions: why the use of artificial intelligence increases the quality of doctors’ work and medical institutions, why it will be easier for patients to use their smartphone and not a paper-based medical record, why it is beneficial to science and the government.

What Are Natural Language Processing Systems?

NLP stands for natural language processing and in the modern world we come across this system almost every day. When we communicate with Siri on the iPhone or use a voice assistant to search Google, even a chatbot for recognizing voice messages in Telegram – all these are mechanisms to analyze natural language. They make it easier for us to handle information on digital devices. To do this, AI analyzes the language, then the text or necessary action is processed and generated.

For instance, if you make a request to Siri on an Apple device, that’s exactly what will happen – it will try to fulfill it:

  • call;

  • find something;

  • send a message or set an alarm.

Another example is when letters are automatically filtered to go to spam or the inbox in your mail.

Yet many difficulties stand in the way of effective and accurate reproduction of this process: a person’s speech may be ambiguous, it can change depending on mood, geographical (dialect) and social position (slang), context. If it was possible, there would be no need to write down information by hand and classify it. And sometimes even necessary letters end up in spam. But still, natural language processing systems can be very helpful in completely different areas and only the most conservative organizations avoid them, or military institutions,  for example, where it is obligatory to follow strict security policies.

The main advantage of natural language processing is that the system allows for efficient use of information. In most cases it is not digitized, and if so, it is probably not systematized. As a result, difficulties arise and it takes an enormous amount of time to search for information.

How Does Natural Language Processing Work?

The natural language processing systems can be given such standard tasks:

  • analyze text;

  • recognize and synthesize speech;

  • generate text.

When analyzing textual content, the following things can be carried out:

  • search;

  • information extraction;

  • sentiment analysis;

  • systematization and classification.

Natural language processing is based on two linguistic concepts – semantics and syntax. The latter is used to recognize grammatical meaning through the arrangement of words, their segmentation, dividing sentences into smaller parts, etc. Semantic analysis is responsible for understanding the meaning, dividing a word into parts, and then classifying it into groups.

After processing the text, AI analyzes and provides the necessary information via a question-and-answer system, for example, a customer service chat on a company’s social networks instead of a customer service hotline. With the advancement of technology, not only basic analysis is possible, but also a more complex process, such as analyzing the sentiment of comments and posts to estimate the reaction of the target audience.

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Natural Language Processing Systems In Healthcare

Patient information

The first thing worth mentioning is the work with EHR (electronic health records). Information about patients, their current state is stored in paper, unstructured form, which can be easily lost or simply put in the wrong place by mistake, and the data will be lost. When serving a patient, a specially trained medical professional or doctor fills in these records manually, which takes quite a lot of time. Thus the actual work of helping patients turns into tedious paperwork.

Doctor is helping a patient fill out a form

EMR (Electronic medical records) can simplify this process, because every doctor at any time, anywhere will be able to access information about a patient from a gadget or computer and provide first aid. Data entry is carried out in different ways: a voice assistant and dubbing of the text, or the choice of the proposed options with prompts and highlighting, for example, at the request “cough” types of cough are offered: dry, wet, etc. The same templates will allow you to find and supplement information later. There are other benefits as well:

  • time savings;

  • more categorized information;

  • the ability to search the system;

  • hundreds of rooms with paper-based records will be available for other purposes.

People will be able to access their medical records online and track their condition from mobile devices effortlessly. It is possible to send the test results by email, or to a messenger upon request. This way the patient will not need to waste time coming and collecting the test results from the laboratory, and there will be an opportunity to immediately go see the doctor.

A very important component for all parties is simplified — financial reporting.

 An electronic system is also beneficial for the government, since all reports can be generated automatically, and any necessary data will be issued upon request. That will significantly reduce the time of collecting them throughout the country and tracking statistics. In addition, a very important component for all parties is simplified — financial reporting. Both the client and the hospital, the government and the insurance company can easily track all expenses and prevent fraud.

This immediately raises the question of data security, since this is not only private information, but also sensitive, so providing access must be carefully planned in order to prevent leakage. But at the same time an electronic version has a huge plus — it is almost impossible to forge. Electronic medical records security systems are at the same high level as bank cards, or government ones, for example, a US military ID. Security technologies go all the way up to biometric identification.

One of the main advantages is that an insurance company can issue a medical record and it will be an identification document as well: both a medical record and an insurance card in one. The receptionist of the clinic will see all the necessary information simply by scanning the card and there will not be any need to fill in long forms. In some hospitals in Canada, registration machines have already been installed, where the patient can enter their electronic medical records number and independently register for an appointment with a doctor. This allows medical staff to spend more time with patients who need it and provide better care.

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An electronic medical record in combination with insurance can simplify travel as well, since it will be valid in many regions at once. For example, in Canada, each individual province is responsible and allocates state funds for medical expenses. A general card helps to simplify this process.

Help in making decisions

When a patient is admitted, depending on his condition, the doctor has to provide medical assistance with accuracy, efficiency and appropriate speed.

The doctor is working at the computer

To do this, you need to familiarize yourself with the basic data about the patient, identify any specific details (for example, allergy to a number of drugs) and monitor the current condition at the same time. In medical institutions, many computer machines are already in use that collect, analyze and assess a patient’s condition using special devices. The results of these tests are extremely important for diagnosis and treatment.

CDSS (Clinical decision support system) in its classical definition was proposed by Robert Hayward (Center for Health Evidence):

Clinical decision support systems link health observations with health knowledge to influence health choices by clinicians for improved health care.

This is one of the main directions for introducing artificial intelligence into the field of medicine.

For example, if a patient is in a severe condition and his/her symptoms are shown using minute tracking with different equipment, the CDSS will display changes dynamics and this will allow the doctor to compare the use of the drug and the period of improvement, or vice versa. This will help choose the most effective treatment and improve service for other patients.

If we are talking about a critical situation, then visualization of minute-by-minute changes of a person’s condition will help the doctor focus and quickly make decisions to save lives. In addition, based on a set of test results, or symptoms, such systems are able to suggest a number of diseases and determine it more accurately and faster than a doctor, which will reduce the risk of death. Providing there is a unified system for both CDSS and EMR.

There exists a global HL7 standard for management, exchange and integration of electronic health information. It is used in computer networks in medicine when there is no corresponding information system. For instance, when patient data is registered in the system, it is automatically transmitted in one generally accepted HL7 format for further processing. After an appointment with a doctor, the examination data is also saved in this format and an electronic medical history is created, which is available for understanding in many regions.

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The basic structure of HL7 comprises information models, storyboards, dictionaries, message structure, interactions. The analysis requires a clinical document and an electronic medical history.

Scientific aspect

Another way to use natural language processing is learning and expanding knowledge. There are many scientific works, whose experiment results are stored in a form that cannot be analyzed. By translating this information into electronic format within one system, this knowledge can be made open. For example, research on a poorly understood disease by doctors from the United States can help doctors in Canada, or vice versa. And their combined analysis will create a complete picture of the disease and create a platform and basis for the development of a vaccine.

Such a knowledge base would come in handy at conferences, symposiums and discussions. Apart from this, the natural language processing systems themselves could use scientific articles and information from forums to work out new algorithms and generate a more precise result for the doctor’s request.


Natural language processing is a system that analyzes human speech and texts based on linguistic language processing (semantics, syntax). We encounter this phenomenon quite often in everyday life: Google voice assistant, Siri, Alexa, automatic answering systems on hotlines in banks, decrypting texts in Telegram using a bot, filtering out spam in mailboxes.

In medicine, these systems, based on artificial intelligence, are used in the form of EMR and CDSS.

The advantages of electronic medical record include:

  • short filling time with templates;

  • ease of use on different devices (for both patients and doctors);

  • cost savings (reduction in paper and storage costs);

  • a single standard for all data (understandable for everyone);

  • large coverage and availability (upon admission to a hospital in another region, the record and medical history allow doctors to quickly get the necessary information and provide first aid);

  • simple generation of reports and conclusions (for example, collecting statistics for the government);

  • easy-to-use search.

The advantages of clinical decision support system include:

  • faster decision making;

  • more accurate result upon request;

  • search in a wide standardized database;

  • successful combination of test results and a patient’s condition;

  • faster prescription of the most suitable treatment;

Natural language processing also helps in the development of scientific potential in medicine by forming a common system of knowledge for the exchange, improvement and search for information.

Healthcare is one of the 4 main industries for which we create software. We have extensive development experience in the following areas: Wireless Health, Digital Health Apps, Telemedicine, EHR / EMR. We will be very happy to help you carry out a project related to the modernization of the healthcare process. Fill out the contact us form and take the first step towards improving your business.

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