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Department of Quantitative Health Sciences

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Artificial Intelligence and Robotics | Health Information Technology | Health Services Administration | Health Services Research


BACKGROUND: Medication and adverse drug event (ADE) information extracted from electronic health record (EHR) notes can be a rich resource for drug safety surveillance. Existing observational studies have mainly relied on structured EHR data to obtain ADE information; however, ADEs are often buried in the EHR narratives and not recorded in structured data.

OBJECTIVE: To unlock ADE-related information from EHR narratives, there is a need to extract relevant entities and identify relations among them. In this study, we focus on relation identification. This study aimed to evaluate natural language processing and machine learning approaches using the expert-annotated medical entities and relations in the context of drug safety surveillance, and investigate how different learning approaches perform under different configurations.

METHODS: We have manually annotated 791 EHR notes with 9 named entities (eg, medication, indication, severity, and ADEs) and 7 different types of relations (eg, medication-dosage, medication-ADE, and severity-ADE). Then, we explored 3 supervised machine learning systems for relation identification: (1) a support vector machines (SVM) system, (2) an end-to-end deep neural network system, and (3) a supervised descriptive rule induction baseline system. For the neural network system, we exploited the state-of-the-art recurrent neural network (RNN) and attention models. We report the performance by macro-averaged precision, recall, and F1-score across the relation types.

RESULTS: Our results show that the SVM model achieved the best average F1-score of 89.1% on test data, outperforming the long short-term memory (LSTM) model with attention (F1-score of 65.72%) as well as the rule induction baseline system (F1-score of 7.47%) by a large margin. The bidirectional LSTM model with attention achieved the best performance among different RNN models. With the inclusion of additional features in the LSTM model, its performance can be boosted to an average F1-score of 77.35%.

CONCLUSIONS: It shows that classical learning models (SVM) remains advantageous over deep learning models (RNN variants) for clinical relation identification, especially for long-distance intersentential relations. However, RNNs demonstrate a great potential of significant improvement if more training data become available. Our work is an important step toward mining EHRs to improve the efficacy of drug safety surveillance. Most importantly, the annotated data used in this study will be made publicly available, which will further promote drug safety research in the community.


drug-related side effects and adverse reactions, electronic health records, medical informatics applications, natural language processing, neural networks

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Copyright ©Tsendsuren Munkhdalai, Feifan Liu, Hong Yu. Originally published in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance (, 25.04.2018. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

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JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2018 Apr 25;4(2):e29. doi: 10.2196/publichealth.9361. Link to article on publisher's site

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JMIR public health and surveillance

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.