Improving condition severity classification with an efficient active learning based framework

Nir Nissim, Mary Regina Boland, Nicholas P. Tatonetti, Yuval Elovici, George Hripcsak, Yuval Shahar, Robert Moskovitch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Classification of condition severity can be useful for discriminating among sets of conditions or phenotypes, for example when prioritizing patient care or for other healthcare purposes. Electronic Health Records (EHRs) represent a rich source of labeled information that can be harnessed for severity classification. The labeling of EHRs is expensive and in many cases requires employing professionals with high level of expertise. In this study, we demonstrate the use of Active Learning (AL) techniques to decrease expert labeling efforts. We employ three AL methods and demonstrate their ability to reduce labeling efforts while effectively discriminating condition severity. We incorporate three AL methods into a new framework based on the original CAESAR (Classification Approach for Extracting Severity Automatically from Electronic Health Records) framework to create the Active Learning Enhancement framework (CAESAR-ALE). We applied CAESAR-ALE to a dataset containing 516 conditions of varying severity levels that were manually labeled by seven experts. Our dataset, called the "CAESAR dataset," was created from the medical records of 1.9 million patients treated at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). All three AL methods decreased labelers' efforts compared to the learning methods applied by the original CAESER framework in which the classifier was trained on the entire set of conditions; depending on the AL strategy used in the current study, the reduction ranged from 48% to 64% that can result in significant savings, both in time and money. As for the PPV (precision) measure, CAESAR-ALE achieved more than 13% absolute improvement in the predictive capabilities of the framework when classifying conditions as severe. These results demonstrate the potential of AL methods to decrease the labeling efforts of medical experts, while increasing accuracy given the same (or even a smaller) number of acquired conditions. We also demonstrated that the methods included in the CAESAR-ALE framework (Exploitation and Combination_XA) are more robust to the use of human labelers with different levels of professional expertise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-54
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biomedical Informatics
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • Active learning
  • Condition
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Phenotyping
  • Severity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Health Informatics


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