Clinical Camel: An Open-Source Expert-Level Medical Language Model with Dialogue-Based Knowledge Encoding

Augustin Toma, Patrick R. Lawler, Jimmy Ba, Rahul G. Krishnan, Barry B. Rubin, Bo wang

Large Language Models (LLMs) present immense potential in the medical field, yet concerns over data privacy, regulatory compliance, and model stability restrict their widespread adoption. Although the distillation of high-performing closed-source LLMs has proven effective for general tasks, their application in healthcare is limited due to reduced domain knowledge and remnants of alignment behavior hindering clinical tasks. To address these challenges, we propose Dialogue-Based Knowledge Encoding (DBKE). DBKE enhances models' implicit knowledge base and primes them for conversational recall, augmenting their conversational capabilities and enabling a soft alignment for subsequent use cases. By transforming dense academic source text into synthetic dialogue, DBKE broadens the model's knowledge base and enables a soft alignment that guides downstream behaviours. We present Clinical Camel, an open-source, healthcare-focused conversational model, to showcase the effectiveness of DBKE. Clinical Camel outperforms GPT-3.5 on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 and Step 3 with scores of 53.2 % and 58.2 %, respectively, compared to GPT-3.5's scores of 36.1 % and 55.7 %. Clinical Camel adeptly handles multi-stage clinical case problems, provides adaptive counseling, and generates clinical notes. However, it is prone to hallucinations, which pose a significant obstacle in safety-critical settings. The performance of Clinical Camel underscores the importance of continued research and development of open-source models for the safe and effective integration of LLMs in healthcare settings.

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