Text-based patient medical records are a vital resource in medical research. In order to preserve patient confidentiality, however, the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires that protected health information (PHI) be removed from medical records before they can be disseminated. Manual de-identification of large medical record databases is prohibitively expensive, time-consuming and prone to error, necessitating automatic methods for large-scale, automated de-identification.
We have developed a pattern-matching de-identification system based on dictionary look-ups, regular expressions, and heuristics. Evaluation based on two different sets of nursing notes collected from a U.S. hospital suggests that, in terms of recall, the software out-performs a single human de-identifier (0.81) and performs at least as well as a consensus of two human de-identifiers (0.94). The system is currently tuned to de-identify PHI in nursing notes and discharge summaries but is sufficiently generalized and can be customized to handle text files of any format. Although the accuracy of the algorithm is high, it is probably insufficient to be used to publicly disseminate medical data. The open-source de-identification software and the gold standard re-identified corpus of medical records have therefore been made available to researchers via the PhysioNet website to encourage improvements in the algorithm.
|BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making|