Identification of asthma control factor in clinical notes using a hybrid deep learning model

Bhavani Singh Agnikula Kshatriya, Elham Sagheb, Chung Il Wi, Jungwon Yoon, Hee Yun Seol, Young Juhn, Sunghwan Sohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: There are significant variabilities in guideline-concordant documentation in asthma care. However, assessing clinician’s documentation is not feasible using only structured data but requires labor-intensive chart review of electronic health records (EHRs). A certain guideline element in asthma control factors, such as review inhaler techniques, requires context understanding to correctly capture from EHR free text. Methods: The study data consist of two sets: (1) manual chart reviewed data—1039 clinical notes of 300 patients with asthma diagnosis, and (2) weakly labeled data (distant supervision)—27,363 clinical notes from 800 patients with asthma diagnosis. A context-aware language model, Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) was developed to identify inhaler techniques in EHR free text. Both original BERT and clinical BioBERT (cBERT) were applied with a cost-sensitivity to deal with imbalanced data. The distant supervision using weak labels by rules was also incorporated to augment the training set and alleviate a costly manual labeling process in the development of a deep learning algorithm. A hybrid approach using post-hoc rules was also explored to fix BERT model errors. The performance of BERT with/without distant supervision, hybrid, and rule-based models were compared in precision, recall, F-score, and accuracy. Results: The BERT models on the original data performed similar to a rule-based model in F1-score (0.837, 0.845, and 0.838 for rules, BERT, and cBERT, respectively). The BERT models with distant supervision produced higher performance (0.853 and 0.880 for BERT and cBERT, respectively) than without distant supervision and a rule-based model. The hybrid models performed best in F1-score of 0.877 and 0.904 over the distant supervision on BERT and cBERT. Conclusions: The proposed BERT models with distant supervision demonstrated its capability to identify inhaler techniques in EHR free text, and outperformed both the rule-based model and BERT models trained on the original data. With a distant supervision approach, we may alleviate costly manual chart review to generate the large training data required in most deep learning-based models. A hybrid model was able to fix BERT model errors and further improve the performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number272
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Adherence to asthma guidelines
  • Context-aware language model
  • Deep learning
  • Documentation variations
  • Inhaler technique
  • Natural language processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health Informatics
  • Computer Science Applications


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