• Press Release

Artificial Intelligence Can Scan Doctors’ Notes to Distinguish Between Types of Back Pain

  • New York, NY
  • (February 27, 2020)

Mount Sinai researchers have designed an artificial intelligence model that can determine whether lower back pain is acute or chronic by scouring doctors’ notes within electronic medical records, an approach that can help to treat patients more accurately, according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in February.

About 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain in their lifetime; it is the most common cause of job-related disability. Many argue that prescribing opioids for lower back pain contributed to the opioid crisis; thus, determining the quality of lower back pain in clinical practice could provide an effective tool not only to improve the management of lower back pain but also to curb unnecessary opioid prescriptions.

Acute and chronic lower back pain are different conditions with different treatments. However, they are coded in electronic health records with the same code and can be differentiated only by retrospective reviews of the patient’s chart, which includes the review of clinical notes. The single code for two different conditions prevents appropriate billing and therapy recommendations, including different return-to-work scenarios. The artificial intelligence model in this study, the first of its kind, could be used to improve the accuracy of coding, billing, and therapy for patients with lower back pain.

The researchers used 17,409 clinical notes for 16,715 patients to train artificial intelligence models to determine the severity of lower back pain.

“Several studies have documented increases in medication prescriptions and visits to physicians, physical therapists, and chiropractors for lower back pain episodes,” said Ismail Nabeel, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “This study is important because artificial intelligence can potentially more accurately distinguish whether the pain is acute or chronic, which would determine whether a patient should return to normal activities quickly or rest and schedule follow-up visits with a physician. This study also has implications for diagnosis, treatment, and billing purposes in other musculoskeletal conditions, such as the knee, elbow, and shoulder pain, where the medical codes also do not differentiate by pain level and acuity.”

This research was funded by Pilot Projects Research Training Program of the NY and NJ Education and Research Center (ERC), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health grant # T42 OH 008422, Hasso Plattner Foundation and NVIDIA.


About the Mount Sinai Health System

Mount Sinai Health System is one of the largest academic medical systems in the New York metro area, with 48,000 employees working across eight hospitals, more than 400 outpatient practices, more than 600 research and clinical labs, a school of nursing, and a leading school of medicine and graduate education. Mount Sinai advances health for all people, everywhere, by taking on the most complex health care challenges of our time—discovering and applying new scientific learning and knowledge; developing safer, more effective treatments; educating the next generation of medical leaders and innovators; and supporting local communities by delivering high-quality care to all who need it.

Through the integration of its hospitals, labs, and schools, Mount Sinai offers comprehensive health care solutions from birth through geriatrics, leveraging innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence and informatics while keeping patients’ medical and emotional needs at the center of all treatment. The Health System includes approximately 9,000 primary and specialty care physicians and 11 free-standing joint-venture centers throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida. Hospitals within the System are consistently ranked by Newsweek’s® “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals, Best in State Hospitals, World Best Hospitals and Best Specialty Hospitals” and by U.S. News & World Report's® “Best Hospitals” and “Best Children’s Hospitals.” The Mount Sinai Hospital is on the U.S. News & World Report® “Best Hospitals” Honor Roll for 2023-2024.

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