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J Biomed Inform. 2010 Dec;43(6):891-901. doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2010.09.009. Epub 2010 Sep 25.

An automated technique for identifying associations between medications, laboratory results and problems.

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Division of General Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02120, USA.



The patient problem list is an important component of clinical medicine. The problem list enables decision support and quality measurement, and evidence suggests that patients with accurate and complete problem lists may have better outcomes. However, the problem list is often incomplete.


To determine whether association rule mining, a data mining technique, has utility for identifying associations between medications, laboratory results and problems. Such associations may be useful for identifying probable gaps in the problem list.


Association rule mining was performed on structured electronic health record data for a sample of 100,000 patients receiving care at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA. The dataset included 272,749 coded problems, 442,658 medications and 11,801,068 laboratory results.


Candidate medication-problem and laboratory-problem associations were generated using support, confidence, chi square, interest, and conviction statistics. High-scoring candidate pairs were compared to a gold standard: the Lexi-Comp drug reference database for medications and Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference for laboratory results.


We were able to successfully identify a large number of clinically accurate associations. A high proportion of high-scoring associations were adjudged clinically accurate when evaluated against the gold standard (89.2% for medications with the best-performing statistic, chi square, and 55.6% for laboratory results using interest).


Association rule mining appears to be a useful tool for identifying clinically accurate associations between medications, laboratory results and problems and has several important advantages over alternative knowledge-based approaches.

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