You might not think it takes a rocket scientist to figure this out, but you might be wrong. Prior to IBM, Macko, an engineer by training, built computer systems for the space shuttle.
Seriously, NLP can uncover the hidden truths in the patient record. Take the elusive condition known as smoking status. A clinician could check the box indicating the patient does not smoke. But the clinical narrative reveals a more nuanced reality. Macko notes that a physician's note may say that the same patient is "down to two packs a day." Only technology such as NLP, or an army of people scanning physicians' notes, could possibly get to the single version of that truth.
There may even be new business opportunities for larger systems such as UNCHC to align with smaller healthcare systems and hospitals who can't afford the resources to implement IBM's LanguageWare Content Analytics.
Here's how it might work. Small providers could connect to systems such as UNCHC via health information exchanges. UNC's own HIE could provide NLP services to such providers, who would send their free-text reports and receive structured data and actionable reports in return, for a fee.
"That's where I see the future of this is going," Moore says. "For a small practice to be able to independently take the software and have a programmer do this themselves is probably not going to happen."