Extracting PICO Sentences from Clinical Trial Reports using Supervised Distant Supervision

Byron C. Wallace, Joël Kuiper, Aakash Sharma, Mingxi (Brian) Zhu, Iain J. Marshall; 17(132):1−25, 2016.


Systematic reviews underpin Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) by addressing precise clinical questions via comprehensive synthesis of all relevant published evidence. Authors of systematic reviews typically define a Population/Problem, Intervention, Comparator, and Outcome (a PICO criteria) of interest, and then retrieve, appraise and synthesize results from all reports of clinical trials that meet these criteria. Identifying PICO elements in the full-texts of trial reports is thus a critical yet time-consuming step in the systematic review process. We seek to expedite evidence synthesis by developing machine learning models to automatically extract sentences from articles relevant to PICO elements. Collecting a large corpus of training data for this task would be prohibitively expensive. Therefore, we derive distant supervision (DS) with which to train models using previously conducted reviews. DS entails heuristically deriving 'soft' labels from an available structured resource. However, we have access only to unstructured, free-text summaries of PICO elements for corresponding articles; we must derive from these the desired sentence-level annotations. To this end, we propose a novel method -- supervised distant supervision (SDS) -- that uses a small amount of direct supervision to better exploit a large corpus of distantly labeled instances by learning to pseudo-annotate articles using the available DS. We show that this approach tends to outperform existing methods with respect to automated PICO extraction.


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