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Meerwijk EL, Tamang SR, Finlay AK, Ilgen MA, Reeves RM, Harris AHS. Suicide theory-guided natural language processing of clinical progress notes to improve prediction of veteran suicide risk: protocol for a mixed-method study. BMJ open. 2022 Aug 24; 12(8):e065088.
INTRODUCTION: The state-of-the-art 3-step Theory of Suicide (3ST) describes why people consider suicide and who will act on their suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide. The central concepts of 3ST-psychological pain, hopelessness, connectedness, and capacity for suicide-are among the most important drivers of suicidal behaviour but they are missing from clinical suicide risk prediction models in use at the US Veterans Health Administration (VHA). These four concepts are not systematically recorded in structured fields of VHA''s electronic healthcare records. Therefore, this study will develop a domain-specific ontology that will enable automated extraction of these concepts from clinical progress notes using natural language processing (NLP), and test whether NLP-based predictors for these concepts improve accuracy of existing VHA suicide risk prediction models. METHODS AND ANALYSIS: Our mixed-method study has an exploratory sequential design where a qualitative component (aim 1) will inform quantitative analyses (aims 2 and 3). For aim 1, subject matter experts will manually annotate progress notes of clinical encounters with veterans who attempted or died by suicide to develop a domain-specific ontology for the 3ST concepts. During aim 2, we will use NLP to machine-annotate clinical progress notes and derive longitudinal representations for each patient with respect to the presence and intensity of hopelessness, psychological pain, connectedness and capacity for suicide in temporal proximity of suicide attempts and deaths by suicide. These longitudinal representations will be evaluated during aim 3 for their ability to improve existing VHA prediction models of suicide and suicide attempts, STORM (Stratification Tool for Opioid Risk Mitigation) and REACHVET (Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health - Veterans Enhanced Treatment). ETHICS AND DISSEMINATION: Ethics approval for this study was granted by the Stanford University Institutional Review Board and the Research and Development Committee of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. Results of the study will be disseminated through several outlets, including peer-reviewed publications and presentations at national conferences.