Blog Post

Natural Language Processing in Healthcare

What Is the Role of Natural Language Processing in Healthcare in the USA?

Mihir Mistry,

Having a vast amount of health-related data available but still unable to discover preventative treatment and diagnosis is like having a detailed map without key landmarks, leaving you wandering in search of the right path!

The average hospital generates about 50 petabytes of data every year, twice the amount of data housed in the Library of Congress. Source.

Simultaneously, new health data keeps being produced through electronic health record systems, wearables, medical imaging, lab tests, etc. What happens to this data, you may wonder?

About 80% of medical data remains unstructured and untapped after its collection.

Processing such a gigantic amount of unstructured data is humanly impossible. But where’s a problem, there’s a solution. And a solution to this problem is Natural Language Processing!

The role of Natural Language Processing in Healthcare comes to the forefront. A subset of Artificial Intelligence, NLP can analyze a large amount of unstructured data, including medical reports and patient records, extracting meaningful insights. These insights further improve patient care, reduce costs, and advance medical research. 

Do you want to know what NLP is and what NLP applications in healthcare help you make the most out of your medical data? 

Then, stick around till the end. You will learn about the crucial role of NLP in healthcare as well as how promising the future of NLP is. 

Let’s delve right into it! 

What is NLP, and what does it mean by NLP in healthcare?

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a technology that enables computers to understand, interpret, and respond to written and spoken human language. It bridges the gap between human communication and digital data processing, allowing machines to read, decipher, and make sense of human languages, whether English or Spanish.

In the healthcare realm, NLP takes this linguistic prowess and applies it to medical data. It’s like having a tech-savvy linguistic detective capable of deciphering and extracting valuable insights from the vast sea of healthcare information. 

Wondering about how NLP could revolutionize healthcare processes?

NLP is a master in analyzing complex datasets. As a digital linguist, NLP can transform unstructured medical text into valuable, actionable insights. From improving coding accuracy to enhancing administrative efficiency, NLP applications in healthcare are diverse and impactful. By automating the interpretation and categorization of clinical documentation, NLP can:

  • Identify relevant medical terminology and link it to the appropriate codes like Diagnostic (IDC-10-CM) and other codes used to describe medical, surgical, and diagnostic procedures and services.
  • Analyze the context in which a term is used to ensure accurate coding.
  • Reduce manual effort, speeding up the process and reducing errors.

What about the accuracy of the information extracted by NLP in healthcare? 

Well, the accuracy of NLP in extracting information varies based on the language’s complexity, the input data’s quality and the specific NLP model used. While NLP systems are highly effective, they are not infallible. However, you can improve the accuracy by:

  • Training with comprehensive datasets that include a wide variety of medical terms and scenarios.
  • Regular updates and refinements to the NLP algorithms as language usage and medical terminology evolve.
  • Human oversight to review and correct the outputs, especially for complex cases.

NLP is becoming a part of digital transformation in healthcare as well. But how does the Natural Language Processing work? Let’s find out!

How does Natural Language Processing work for healthcare?

You understand the concept of NLP in healthcare. Now, let us see how NLP uses the unstructured data collected through various healthcare devices and systems.

Natural Language Processing Work in Healthcare

Text Input Analysis

NLP begins by ingesting vast amounts of text data, often in the form of clinical notes, patient records, or medical literature. Through tokenization, the text is broken down into smaller units, such as words or phrases, creating a structured foundation for analysis.

Language Understanding

NLP employs syntactic and semantic analysis to comprehend the relationships between words, discerning the nuances of language. Named Entity Recognition (NER) identifies specific entities like diseases, medications, or procedures, enabling a deeper understanding of the context.

Feature Extraction:

Key features, such as relevant medical terms, are extracted from the analyzed text. This step is pivotal in preparing the data for further processing.

Algorithmic Processing:

Machine learning algorithms, trained on diverse healthcare datasets, come into play. These algorithms utilize the extracted features to predict and classify information accurately.

Output Generation:

The final output comprises actionable insights or structured data derived from the initial unstructured text, ranging from diagnostic codes to treatment recommendations.

There are many more Information Technologies in Healthcare you can leverage.

What is the Role of Natural Language Processing in Healthcare?

NLP in healthcare is more than a technological advancement or healthcare technology trend; it’s a catalyst for efficiency, accuracy, and personalized care. It’s about transforming the language of medicine into actionable insights, enhancing both patient care and the healthcare professionals’ experience.

Let’s dive into NPL’s roles in the Healthcare industry, elevating care and treatments.

Data Extraction: It meticulously filters heaps of textual data, extracting key information such as patient symptoms, treatment plans, and diagnostic details.

Streamlining Unstructured Data: NLP converts the maze of unstructured medical notes and records into organized, accessible formats.

Enhancing Communication: It improves how healthcare providers interact with their systems, enabling more natural, intuitive input methods like speech or conversational text.

Automating Documentation: NLP reduces the administrative burden by auto-generating and organizing clinical documentation, saving valuable time for healthcare providers.

Supporting Decision-Making: By analyzing large volumes of medical literature and patient data, NLP aids in informed decision-making and personalized patient care strategies.

Predictive Analysis: NLP can help in predicting patient outcomes by analyzing trends and patterns in historical data, contributing to proactive healthcare management.

So, NLP plays multifaceted roles in healthcare, helping professionals make the most out of collected healthcare data. Moving forward, let us explore how and where NLP is used in healthcare. 

Future of NLP in Healthcare

What are the potential NLP applications in Healthcare?

Talking about NLP in healthcare use cases, you will find NLP’s presence in almost every aspect. Beyond the interpretation and processing of data, NLP connects dots in healthcare data, unleashing the hidden potential of every text and word. How does NLP do this? 

NLP Transforms Patient Records into Goldmines of Information

One of the most fundamental applications of NLP is in interpreting electronic health records (EHRs). EHRs are often laden with free-text notes that are rich with patient information but challenging to analyze manually. 

NLP steps in as a skilled miner, extracting and structuring this data for easier access and analysis. For example, studies conducted in the United States suggested NLP methods can be developed to identify suicide phenotypes in EHRs to enhance prevention efforts, predictive models, and precision medicine.

Revolutionizing Clinical Decision Support

NLP plays a critical role in enhancing clinical decision support systems. By analyzing patient data and medical literature, NLP helps healthcare providers make more informed decisions. A notable case is IBM Watson’s use in oncology, where it aids in identifying potential treatment options based on the patient’s medical history and the latest research.

Streamlining the Coding and Billing Process

The world of medical billing and coding is notoriously complex. Since NLP can extract relevant information from clinical documents, it automates billing processes for healthcare facilities.

A study from the American Health Information Management Association highlighted that computer-assisted coding software with NLP can determine the accurate codes, and a decision can be made to allow the CAC engine to go “direct to bill,” bypassing the coder.

Powering Research and Drug Development

It takes about 14 years and costs over $1.5 billion on average to bring a new drug to market, with about 40% of the costs coming during initial lead selection.

However, NLP can accelerate medical research by swiftly analyzing vast amounts of scientific literature and clinical trial data. This specialty of NLP plays a crucial role in drug discovery and development. 

For instance, Pfizer leveraged IBM’s Watson’s machine learning and natural language processing to expedite new drug identifications and efficiently select patients for clinical trials.

Enhancing Patient Engagement and Self-Management

Another potential application of NLP is related to patient interaction. With NLP, healthcare organizations can rejuvenate patient interaction through chatbots and virtual health assistants. Integrating NLP into these tools enables you to communicate effectively with patients, offering timely medical advice and improving adherence to treatment plans. 

For example, by creating a chatbot with NLP, you can allow patients to get healthcare advice 24/7. The NLP Health Chatbot would analyze patient queries, deciphering symptoms and medical history. In return, the chatbot would offer tailored advice, enhancing patient care through efficient and personalized interactions.

An NLP chatbot can also be a revolutionizing feature for an elder healthcare app solution. What do you think?

Predictive Analytics in Population Health

NLP in population health employs predictive analytics by analyzing vast datasets, including electronic health records and social determinants. It identifies patterns and trends, allowing healthcare providers to anticipate health issues, allocate resources effectively, and implement preventive interventions. NLP technology assesses language nuances in medical records, extracting valuable insights for informed decision-making and proactive healthcare management.

What does the future of NLP in healthcare look like?

As we stand on the brink of a new era in healthcare, it’s exciting to question, “What next?” Especially when it comes to the role of Natural Language Processing (NLP) in shaping the future of healthcare. With each advancement, NLP is not only breaking down the barriers of language but also building bridges to a more informed, efficient, and patient-centric healthcare system. 

Emerging Trends in NLP

The horizon of NLP in healthcare is marked by several promising innovations. One such trend is the integration of NLP with other AI technologies, including machine learning and deep learning, creating more intuitive and intelligent systems. 

These integrations further go beyond just processing language; they are learning from it, evolving to understand patient sentiment and even cultural nuances in communication.

Another upcoming advancement is the enhanced interoperability of NLP systems. As healthcare data becomes more interconnected, NLP tools will increasingly be able to draw insights from diverse data sources. That will result in a more holistic view of patient care.

Future Predictions: The NLP Revolution

Looking ahead, NLP is set to revolutionize healthcare in numerous ways. Imagine a future where NLP tools can predict outbreaks and epidemics by analyzing patterns in healthcare data – a reality that isn’t far off. 

In the next decade, we might see NLP becoming central to personalized medicine. And tailoring treatments based on a patient’s unique health profile and lifestyle, as extracted from their speech and text data. 

A more exciting development could be the widespread use of NLP in remote patient monitoring and telemedicine, making healthcare more accessible and efficient. NLP can facilitate real-time translation services in telehealth, breaking down language barriers in patient care.

Let’s look at the futuristic applications of NLP in healthcare:

NLP applications in Healthcare
  • Real-time Clinical Decision Support: Advanced NLP would provide real-time insights during patient consultations, aiding healthcare professionals in making informed decisions.
  • Early Disease Detection: By analyzing subtle language patterns in patient data, NLP would contribute to the early detection of diseases, enabling timely interventions and improved outcomes.
  • Emotion-Responsive Virtual Health Assistants: An NLP virtual health assistant that would respond to a patient’s emotional state, providing empathetic communication and support. Especially in mental health and chronic care management.
  • Genomic Data Interpretation: Integrating NLP with genomics to interpret complex genetic data, providing insights into personalized medicine and predictive health risks based on genetic markers.

Enrolling the right Healthcare IT consulting services, you can leverage the above as well as customize your NLP applications.

It’s time to reinforce healthcare services through NLP technology! 

The global NLP in healthcare and life sciences market size is projected to reach US$3.7 billion by 2025.- MarketsandMarkets.

The statistics already point to a bright future for NLP in healthcare. Besides, the growth is a testament to the increasing adoption and trust in NLP technologies in the healthcare sector. NLP’s capability to process vast datasets, understand intricate language nuances, and contribute to early disease detection underscores its potential.

If you’re ready to harness the power of Natural Language Processing (NLP) to revolutionize your healthcare organization or address specific challenges, contact us today. With the experienced team in healthcare app development, we can help you create tailored NLP solutions that propel your goals forward. 

Let’s collaborate and shape the future together.

NLP in Healthcare

Mihir Mistry

Mihir Mistry is a highly experienced CTO at Kody Technolab, with over 16 years of expertise in software architecture and modern technologies such as Big Data, AI, and ML. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge with others to help them benefit.

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