To utilize natural language processing (NLP) of MRI reports and various clinical variables to develop a preliminary model predictive of the need for surgery in patients with low back and neck pain. Such a model would be beneficial for informing clinical practice decisions and help reduce the number of unnecessary surgical referrals, streamlining the surgical process.
A historical cohort study was conducted using de-identified data from patients referred to a spine assessment clinic. Various demographic, clinical, and radiological variables were included as potential predictors. Full-text radiology reports of patients’ MRI findings were vectorized using NLP before applying machine learning algorithms to develop models predicting who underwent surgery. Outputs from these models were then entered into a logistic regression model with clinical variables to develop a preliminary model predictive of surgical recommendations.
Of the 398 patients assessed, 71 underwent spine surgery. NLP variables were significant predictors in univariate analysis but did not remain in the final logistic regression model. An outcome of receiving surgery was predicted by a primary symptom of low back and leg pain (adjusted odds ratio 2.81), distal pain indicated by a pain diagram (adjusted odds ratio 2.49) and self-reported difficulties walking (adjusted odds ratio 2.73).
A logistic regression model was created to predict which patients may require spine surgery. Simple clinical variables appeared more predictive than variables created using NLP. However, additional research with more data samples is needed to validate this model and fully evaluate the usefulness of NLP for this task.

© 2023. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.