Electronic health records don’t leave much room for nuance: On paper, two patients with the same type of knee problem might score the same on a standardized walking test, and have tried the same treatment options. But once they leave the clinic, the same condition could impact each of their lives in considerably different ways.
“If disability is an interaction between a person’s health condition, and their environment, and the personal choices they make, we’ve got to understand that full context,” said Amy Houtrow, a pediatric rehabilitation doctor and professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Technologies like natural language processing can sort through a sea of health data to extract vital information about a patient’s day-to-day experiences and challenges outside the doctor’s office that might be overlooked. These tools also show promise in helping to amplify the voice of people with disabilities, putting their own expertise about their health at the heart of their care.

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