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Answering Clinical Questions with Knowledge-based and Statistical Techniques
The combination of recent developments in question-answering research and the availability of unparalleled resources developed specifically for automatic semantic processing of text in the medical domain provides a unique opportunity to explore complex question answering in the domain of clinical medicine. This article presents a system designed to satisfy the information needs of physicians practicing evidence-based medicine. We have developed a series of knowledge extractors, which employ a combination of knowledge-based and statistical techniques, for automatically identifying clinically relevant aspects of MEDLINE abstracts. These extracted elements serve as the input to an algorithm that scores the relevance of citations with respect to structured representations of information needs, in accordance with the principles of evidencebased medicine. Starting with an initial list of citations retrieved by PubMed, our system can bring relevant abstracts into higher ranking positions, and from these abstracts generate responses that directly answer physicians' questions. We describe three separate evaluations: one focused on the accuracy of the knowledge extractors, one conceptualized as a document reranking task, and finally, an evaluation of answers by two physicians. Experiments on a collection of real-world clinical questions show that our approach significantly outperforms the already competitive PubMed baseline.