Applications of natural language processing at emergency department triage: A narrative review

Jonathon Stewart, Juan Lu, Adrian Goudie, Glenn Arendts, Shiv Akarsh Meka, Sam Freeman, Katie Walker, Peter Sprivulis, Frank Sanfilippo, Mohammed Bennamoun, Girish Dwivedi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


INTRODUCTION: Natural language processing (NLP) uses various computational methods to analyse and understand human language, and has been applied to data acquired at Emergency Department (ED) triage to predict various outcomes. The objective of this scoping review is to evaluate how NLP has been applied to data acquired at ED triage, assess if NLP based models outperform humans or current risk stratification techniques when predicting outcomes, and assess if incorporating free-text improve predictive performance of models when compared to predictive models that use only structured data. METHODS: All English language peer-reviewed research that applied an NLP technique to free-text obtained at ED triage was eligible for inclusion. We excluded studies focusing solely on disease surveillance, and studies that used information obtained after triage. We searched the electronic databases MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Web of Science, and Scopus for medical subject headings and text keywords related to NLP and triage. Databases were last searched on 01/01/2022. Risk of bias in studies was assessed using the Prediction model Risk of Bias Assessment Tool (PROBAST). Due to the high level of heterogeneity between studies and high risk of bias, a metanalysis was not conducted. Instead, a narrative synthesis is provided. RESULTS: In total, 3730 studies were screened, and 20 studies were included. The population size varied greatly between studies ranging from 1.8 million patients to 598 triage notes. The most common outcomes assessed were prediction of triage score, prediction of admission, and prediction of critical illness. NLP models achieved high accuracy in predicting need for admission, triage score, critical illness, and mapping free-text chief complaints to structured fields. Incorporating both structured data and free-text data improved results when compared to models that used only structured data. However, the majority of studies (80%) were assessed to have a high risk of bias, and only one study reported the deployment of an NLP model into clinical practice. CONCLUSION: Unstructured free-text triage notes have been used by NLP models to predict clinically relevant outcomes. However, the majority of studies have a high risk of bias, most research is retrospective, and there are few examples of implementation into clinical practice. Future work is needed to prospectively assess if applying NLP to data acquired at ED triage improves ED outcomes when compared to usual clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0279953
JournalPLoS One
Issue number12 December
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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