Clinical Relation Extraction Using Transformer-based Models

Xi Yang, Zehao Yu, Yi Guo, Jiang Bian, Yonghui Wu

The newly emerged transformer technology has a tremendous impact on NLP research. In the general English domain, transformer-based models have achieved state-of-the-art performances on various NLP benchmarks. In the clinical domain, researchers also have investigated transformer models for clinical applications. The goal of this study is to systematically explore three widely used transformer-based models (i.e., BERT, RoBERTa, and XLNet) for clinical relation extraction and develop an open-source package with clinical pre-trained transformer-based models to facilitate information extraction in the clinical domain. We developed a series of clinical RE models based on three transformer architectures, namely BERT, RoBERTa, and XLNet. We evaluated these models using 2 publicly available datasets from 2018 MADE1.0 and 2018 n2c2 challenges. We compared two classification strategies (binary vs. multi-class classification) and investigated two approaches to generate candidate relations in different experimental settings. In this study, we compared three transformer-based (BERT, RoBERTa, and XLNet) models for relation extraction. We demonstrated that the RoBERTa-clinical RE model achieved the best performance on the 2018 MADE1.0 dataset with an F1-score of 0.8958. On the 2018 n2c2 dataset, the XLNet-clinical model achieved the best F1-score of 0.9610. Our results indicated that the binary classification strategy consistently outperformed the multi-class classification strategy for clinical relation extraction. Our methods and models are publicly available at We believe this work will improve current practice on clinical relation extraction and other related NLP tasks in the biomedical domain.

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