OBJECTIVE:: Secondary use of electronic health record (EHR) data relies on the ability to retrieve accurate and complete information about desired patient populations. The Text Retrieval Conference (TREC) 2011 Medical Records Track was a challenge evaluation allowing comparison of systems and algorithms to retrieve patients eligible for clinical studies from a corpus of de-identified medical records, grouped by patient visit. Participants retrieved cohorts of patients relevant to 35 different clinical topics, and visits were judged for relevance to each topic. This study identified the most common barriers to identifying specific clinic populations in the test collection. METHODS:: Using the runs from track participants and judged visits, we analyzed the five non-relevant visits most often retrieved and the five relevant visits most often overlooked. Categories were developed iteratively to group the reasons for incorrect retrieval for each of the 35 topics. RESULTS:: Reasons fell into nine categories for non-relevant visits and five categories for relevant visits. Non-relevant visits were most often retrieved because they contained a non-relevant reference to the topic terms. Relevant visits were most often infrequently retrieved because they used a synonym for a topic term. CONCLUSIONS:: This failure analysis provides insight into areas for future improvement in EHR-based retrieval with techniques such as more widespread and complete use of standardized terminology in retrieval and data entry systems.
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