Theses Doctoral

Improving Eligibility Prescreening for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Clinical Trials with Natural Language Processing

Idnay, Betina Ross Saldua

Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) are among the leading causes of disability and mortality among the older population worldwide and a costly public health issue, yet there is still no treatment for prevention or cure. Clinical trials are available, but successful recruitment has been a longstanding challenge. One strategy to improve recruitment is conducting eligibility prescreening, a resource-intensive process where clinical research staff manually go through electronic health records to identify potentially eligible patients. Natural language processing (NLP), an informatics approach used to extract relevant data from various structured and unstructured data types, may improve eligibility prescreening for ADRD clinical trials.

Guided by the Fit between Individuals, Task, and Technology framework, this dissertation research aims to optimize eligibility prescreening for ADRD clinical research by evaluating the sociotechnical factors influencing the adoption of NLP-driven tools. A systematic review of the literature was done to identify NLP systems that have been used for eligibility prescreening in clinical research. Following this, three NLP-driven tools were evaluated in ADRD clinical research eligibility prescreening: Criteria2Query, i2b2, and Leaf. We conducted an iterative mixed-methods usability evaluation with twenty clinical research staff using a cognitive walkthrough with a think-aloud protocol, Post-Study System Usability Questionnaire, and a directed deductive content analysis. Moreover, we conducted a cognitive task analysis with sixty clinical research staff to assess the impact of cognitive complexity on the usability of NLP systems and identify the sociotechnical gaps and cognitive support needed in using NLP systems for ADRD clinical research eligibility prescreening.

The results show that understanding the role of NLP systems in improving eligibility prescreening is critical to the advancement of clinical research recruitment. All three systems are generally usable and accepted by a group of clinical research staff. The cognitive walkthrough and a think-aloud protocol informed iterative system refinement, resulting in high system usability. Cognitive complexity has no significant effect on system usability; however, the system, order of evaluation, job position, and computer literacy are associated with system usability. Key recommendations for system development and implementation include improving system intuitiveness and overall user experience through comprehensive consideration of user needs and task completion requirements; and implementing a focused training on database query to improve clinical research staff’s aptitude in eligibility prescreening and advance workforce competency.

Finally, this study contributes to our understanding of the conduct of electronic eligibility prescreening for ADRD clinical research by clinical research staff. Findings from this study highlighted the importance of leveraging human-computer collaboration in conducting eligibility prescreening using NLP-driven tools, which provide an opportunity to identify and enroll participants of diverse backgrounds who are eligible for ADRD clinical research and accelerate treatment development.


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2024-08-29.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Schnall, Rebecca
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 7, 2022