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Semantic annotation of consumer health questions.
BACKGROUND: Consumers increasingly use online resources for their health information needs. While current search engines can address these needs to some extent, they generally do not take into account that most health information needs are complex and can only fully be expressed in natural language. Consumer health question answering (QA) systems aim to fill this gap. A major challenge in developing consumer health QA systems is extracting relevant semantic content from the natural language questions (question understanding). To develop effective question understanding tools, question corpora semantically annotated for relevant question elements are needed. In this paper, we present a two-part consumer health question corpus annotated with several semantic categories: named entities, question triggers/types, question frames, and question topic. The first part (CHQA-email) consists of relatively long email requests received by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) customer service, while the second part (CHQA-web) consists of shorter questions posed to MedlinePlus search engine as queries. Each question has been annotated by two annotators. The annotation methodology is largely the same between the two parts of the corpus; however, we also explain and justify the differences between them. Additionally, we provide information about corpus characteristics, inter-annotator agreement, and our attempts to measure annotation confidence in the absence of adjudication of annotations.
RESULTS: The resulting corpus consists of 2614 questions (CHQA-email: 1740, CHQA-web: 874). Problems are the most frequent named entities, while treatment and general information questions are the most common question types. Inter-annotator agreement was generally modest: question types and topics yielded highest agreement, while the agreement for more complex frame annotations was lower. Agreement in CHQA-web was consistently higher than that in CHQA-email. Pairwise inter-annotator agreement proved most useful in estimating annotation confidence.
CONCLUSIONS: To our knowledge, our corpus is the first focusing on annotation of uncurated consumer health questions. It is currently used to develop machine learning-based methods for question understanding. We make the corpus publicly available to stimulate further research on consumer health QA.