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Purpose: Clinical notes typically contain medical jargons and specialized words and phrases that are complicated and technical to most people, which is one of the most challenging obstacles in health information dissemination to consumers by healthcare providers. The authors aim to investigate how to leverage machine learning techniques to transform clinical notes of interest into understandable expressions. Design/methodology/approach: The authors propose a natural language processing pipeline that is capable of extracting relevant information from long unstructured clinical notes and simplifying lexicons by replacing medical jargons and technical terms. Particularly, the authors develop an unsupervised keywords matching method to extract relevant information from clinical notes. To automatically evaluate completeness of the extracted information, the authors perform a multi-label classification task on the relevant texts. To simplify lexicons in the relevant text, the authors identify complex words using a sequence labeler and leverage transformer models to generate candidate words for substitution. The authors validate the proposed pipeline using 58,167 discharge summaries from critical care services. Findings: The results show that the proposed pipeline can identify relevant information with high completeness and simplify complex expressions in clinical notes so that the converted notes have a high level of readability but a low degree of meaning change. Social implications: The proposed pipeline can help healthcare consumers well understand their medical information and therefore strengthen communications between healthcare providers and consumers for better care. Originality/value: An innovative pipeline approach is developed to address the health literacy problem confronted by healthcare providers and consumers in the ongoing digital transformation process in the healthcare industry.

Original publication




Journal article


Digital Transformation and Society

Publication Date





9 - 28