Assertion Detection in Clinical Notes

In order to provide high-quality care, health professionals must efficiently identify the presence, possibility, or absence of symptoms, treatments and other relevant entities in free-text clinical notes. Such is the task of assertion detection - to identify the assertion class (present, possible, absent) of an entity based on textual cues in unstructured text. We evaluate state-of-the-art medical language models on the task and show that they outperform the baselines in all three classes. As transferability is especially important in the medical domain we further study how the best performing model behaves on unseen data from two other medical datasets. For this purpose we introduce a newly annotated set of 5,000 assertions for the publicly available MIMIC-III dataset. We conclude with an error analysis that reveals situations in which the models still go wrong and points towards future research directions.