Appl Clin Inform 2018; 09(01): 232-237
DOI: 10.1055/s-0038-1639482
Case Report
Schattauer GmbH Stuttgart

Text Mining and Automation for Processing of Patient Referrals

James Todd
1   Bond Business School, Bond University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Brent Richards
2   Department of Intensive Care, Gold Coast University Hospital, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Bruce James Vanstone
1   Bond Business School, Bond University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Adrian Gepp
1   Bond Business School, Bond University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

14 November 2017

15 February 2018

Publication Date:
28 March 2018 (online)


Background Various tasks within health care processes are repetitive and time-consuming, requiring personnel who could be better utilized elsewhere. The task of assigning clinical urgency categories to internal patient referrals is one such case of a time-consuming process, which may be amenable to automation through the application of text mining and natural language processing (NLP) techniques.

Objective This article aims to trial and evaluate a pilot study for the first component of the task—determining reasons for referrals.

Methods Text is extracted from scanned patient referrals before being processed to remove nonsensical symbols and identify key information. The processed data are compared against a list of conditions that represent possible reasons for referral. Similarity scores are used as a measure of overlap in terms used in the processed data and the condition list.

Results This pilot study was successful, and results indicate that it would be valuable for future research to develop a more sophisticated classification model for determining reasons for referrals. Issues encountered in the pilot study and methods of addressing them were outlined and should be of use to researchers working on similar problems.

Conclusion This pilot study successfully demonstrated that there is potential for automating the assignment of reasons for referrals and provides a foundation for further work to build on. This study also outlined a potential application of text mining and NLP to automating a manual task in hospitals to save time of human resources.


All codes used in this study are available on BitBucket, and can be accessed through the following link: The actual patient referrals are not available as they contain private information.

Protection of Human and Animal Subjects

Ethics approval has been obtained for this project. The referral documents were deidentified by redacting names and information of medical professionals and patients, and date information before being provided.