Natural language and medical research

How Natural Language Processing Is Helping the Healthcare Industry


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Improving Efficiency in the Big Data Age

Digitisation has revolutionised a host of industries, but nowhere has the change been felt more strongly than in the healthcare sector.

The healthcare industry is drowning in data. Recent years have created a flood of information, thanks to increased adoption of digital records, greater use of remote monitoring devices, IoT innovations and a whole host of other data inputs.

All this data can have a profound effect on the quality of healthcare being delivered and the wellbeing of patients in terms of more accurate and timely diagnoses and more effective treatments. But that only happens if those within the healthcare industry are able to make proper sense of all that information. That’s where natural language processing (NLP) comes to the fore.

Using NLP to bring order from chaos

The problem is that well over three quarters of all that data is unstructured in nature. In other words, it is not neatly checked boxes or yes/no answers, it is comprised of doctors’ notes, family history information and other such information. It’s all vitally important, but analysing it is hugely demanding in terms of time and manpower.


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NLP is an exciting and effective solution to this problem. It has the power to understand the vagaries of language, syntax, context and intent that are so important in this field. It is, in fact, the perfect proving ground for the technology. The medical sector is awash with complex jargon, unusual words and even abbreviations that might mean one thing in one context and another somewhere else.

Improving diagnoses and treatments

Data that has been analysed by NLP gives doctors the information they need to make faster, more accurate and better-informed decisions than ever before in human history. This is simply because the software has access to a vastly broader range of data from far more sources.

Effectively, where a doctor might have once have taken 20 minutes to research a patient’s symptoms in three text books, digital software using NLP researches 3,000 resources in less than a second. Inevitably, this means the doctor will be in a better position to identify chronic conditions and to devise the most effective treatment strategies.

More effective research

Data that has been analysed through NLP also has an important role to play in the field of medical research. It can be used for adverse event monitoring by examining the clinical reports of patients at a speed and efficiency that was unimaginable when doing the task manually. During clinical trials, the increased speed at which data can be analysed means that potentially life-saving drugs, treatments and therapies can be made available all the quicker.

Leading the way to a better, healthier future

Sometimes people look at the advances in technology, with our smartphones and virtual assistants and wonder if there is really any point to it all. NLP is one innovation where the benefits to human life and happiness are obvious.

It will never replace the need for doctors, but that is not the idea. It is a tool, just like any other, and one that is helping those in the health industry to make faster and better treatment decisions. Ultimately, that is good news for all of us.


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