Generating real-world evidence from unstructured clinical notes to examine clinical utility of genetic tests: use case in BRCAness

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Next-generation sequencing provides comprehensive information about individuals’ genetic makeup and is commonplace in oncology clinical practice. However, the utility of genetic information in the clinical decision-making process has not been examined extensively from a real-world, data-driven perspective. Through mining real-world data (RWD) from clinical notes, we could extract patients’ genetic information and further associate treatment decisions with genetic information. Methods: We proposed a real-world evidence (RWE) study framework that incorporates context-based natural language processing (NLP) methods and data quality examination before final association analysis. The framework was demonstrated in a Foundation-tested women cancer cohort (N = 196). Upon retrieval of patients’ genetic information using NLP system, we assessed the completeness of genetic data captured in unstructured clinical notes according to a genetic data-model. We examined the distribution of different topics regarding BRCA1/2 throughout patients’ treatment process, and then analyzed the association between BRCA1/2 mutation status and the discussion/prescription of targeted therapy. Results: We identified seven topics in the clinical context of genetic mentions including: Information, Evaluation, Insurance, Order, Negative, Positive, and Variants of unknown significance. Our rule-based system achieved a precision of 0.87, recall of 0.93 and F-measure of 0.91. Our machine learning system achieved a precision of 0.901, recall of 0.899 and F-measure of 0.9 for four-topic classification and a precision of 0.833, recall of 0.823 and F-measure of 0.82 for seven-topic classification. We found in result-containing sentences, the capture of BRCA1/2 mutation information was 75%, but detailed variant information (e.g. variant types) is largely missing. Using cleaned RWD, significant associations were found between BRCA1/2 positive mutation and targeted therapies. Conclusions: In conclusion, we demonstrated a framework to generate RWE using RWD from different clinical sources. Rule-based NLP system achieved the best performance for resolving contextual variability when extracting RWD from unstructured clinical notes. Data quality issues such as incompleteness and discrepancies exist thus manual data cleaning is needed before further analysis can be performed. Finally, we were able to use cleaned RWD to evaluate the real-world utility of genetic information to initiate a prescription of targeted therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • BRCA1/2
  • Electronic health records
  • Natural language processing
  • PARP inhibitor
  • Precision medicine
  • Real-world evidence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health Informatics


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