A new Artificial Intelligence tool has been proved to be able to detect whether a patient has injected drugs

An automated AI process that combines natural language processing and machine learning has identified people who inject drugs (PWID) in electronic health records more quickly and accurately than current methods that rely on manual record reviews.

Currently, people who inject drugs are identified through International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes that are specified in patients’ electronic health records by the healthcare providers or extracted from those notes by trained human coders who review them for billing purposes.

But there is no specific ICD code for injection drug use, so providers and coders must rely on a combination of non-specific codes as proxies to identify PWIDs – a slow approach that can lead to inaccuracies.

See also: Intelligent microscope detects rare biological events

Injection sites

Researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and others, manually reviewed 1,000 records from 2003-2014 of people admitted to Veterans Administration hospitals with Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia, a common infection that develops when the bacteria enters openings in the skin, such as those at injection sites.

They then developed and trained AI algorithms using natural language processing and machine learning and compared them with 11 proxy combinations of ICD codes to identify PWIDs.

Limitations to the study include potentially poor documentation by providers.

Also, the dataset used is from 2003 to 2014, but the injection drug use epidemic has since shifted from prescription opioids and heroin to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which the algorithm may miss because the dataset where it learned the classification does not have many examples of that drug.

Finally, the findings may not be applicable to other circumstances given that they are based entirely on data from the Veterans Administration.

AI model

Use of this artificial intelligence model significantly speeds up the process of identifying PWIDs, which could improve clinical decision making, health services research, and administrative surveillance.

Lead author Dr David Goodman-Meza said: “By using natural language processing and machine learning, we could identify people who inject drugs in thousands of notes in a matter of minutes compared to several weeks that it would take a manual reviewer to do this.”

An assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, he added: “This would allow health systems to identify PWIDs to better allocate resources like syringe services programs and substance use and mental health treatment for people who use drugs.”

The study is published in Open Forum Infectious Diseases.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons