Assessment and Improvement of Drug Data Structuredness From Electronic Health Records: Algorithm Development and Validation

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



Background: Digitization offers a multitude of opportunities to gain insights into current diagnostics and therapies from retrospective data. In this context, real-world data and their accessibility are of increasing importance to support unbiased and reliable research on big data. However, routinely collected data are not readily usable for research owing to the unstructured nature of health care systems and a lack of interoperability between these systems. This challenge is evident in drug data. Objective: This study aimed to present an approach that identifies and increases the structuredness of drug data while ensuring standardization according to Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical (ATC) classification. Methods: Our approach was based on available drug prescriptions and a drug catalog and consisted of 4 steps. First, we performed an initial analysis of the structuredness of local drug data to define a point of comparison for the effectiveness of the overall approach. Second, we applied 3 algorithms to unstructured data that translated text into ATC codes based on string comparisons in terms of ingredients and product names and performed similarity comparisons based on Levenshtein distance. Third, we validated the results of the 3 algorithms with expert knowledge based on the 1000 most frequently used prescription texts. Fourth, we performed a final validation to determine the increased degree of structuredness. Results: Initially, 47.73% (n=843,980) of 1,768,153 drug prescriptions were classified as structured. With the application of the 3 algorithms, we were able to increase the degree of structuredness to 85.18% (n=1,506,059) based on the 1000 most frequent medication prescriptions. In this regard, the combination of algorithms 1, 2, and 3 resulted in a correctness level of 100% (with 57,264 ATC codes identified), algorithms 1 and 3 resulted in 99.6% (with 152,404 codes identified), and algorithms 1 and 2 resulted in 95.9% (with 39,472 codes identified). Conclusions: As shown in the first analysis steps of our approach, the availability of a product catalog to select during the documentation process is not sufficient to generate structured data. Our 4-step approach reduces the problems and reliably increases the structuredness automatically. Similarity matching shows promising results, particularly for entries with no connection to a product catalog. However, further enhancement of the correctness of such a similarity matching algorithm needs to be investigated in future work.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere40312
JournalJMIR medical informatics
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2023

External IDs

Scopus 85149984703
ORCID /0000-0003-0154-2867/work/143072742
ORCID /0000-0002-9888-8460/work/143075714
PubMed 36696159