Parsing clinical text: How good are the state-of-the-art parsers?

Min Jiang, Yang Huang, Jung Wei Fan, Buzhou Tang, Josh Denny, Hua Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Parsing, which generates a syntactic structure of a sentence (a parse tree), is a critical component of natural language processing (NLP) research in any domain including medicine. Although parsers developed in the general English domain, such as the Stanford parser, have been applied to clinical text, there are no formal evaluations and comparisons of their performance in the medical domain. Methods: In this study, we investigated the performance of three state-of-the-art parsers: the Stanford parser, the Bikel parser, and the Charniak parser, using following two datasets: (1) A Treebank containing 1,100 sentences that were randomly selected from progress notes used in the 2010 i2b2 NLP challenge and manually annotated according to a Penn Treebank based guideline; and (2) the MiPACQ Treebank, which is developed based on pathology notes and clinical notes, containing 13,091 sentences. We conducted three experiments on both datasets. First, we measured the performance of the three state-of-the-art parsers on the clinical Treebanks with their default settings. Then we re-trained the parsers using the clinical Treebanks and evaluated their performance using the 10-fold cross validation method. Finally we re-trained the parsers by combining the clinical Treebanks with the Penn Treebank. Results: Our results showed that the original parsers achieved lower performance in clinical text (Bracketing F-measure in the range of 66.6%-70.3%) compared to general English text. After retraining on the clinical Treebank, all parsers achieved better performance, with the best performance from the Stanford parser that reached the highest Bracketing F-measure of 73.68% on progress notes and 83.72% on the MiPACQ corpus using 10-fold cross validation. When the combined clinical Treebanks and Penn Treebank was used, of the three parsers, the Charniak parser achieved the highest Bracketing F-measure of 73.53% on progress notes and the Stanford parser reached the highest F-measure of 84.15% on the MiPACQ corpus. Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that re-training using clinical Treebanks is critical for improving general English parsers' performance on clinical text, and combining clinical and open domain corpora might achieve optimal performance for parsing clinical text.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberS2
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 20 2015


  • Medical language processing
  • NLP
  • clinical text
  • natural language processing
  • parsing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health Informatics
  • Computer Science Applications


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