Sample Size in Natural Language Processing within Healthcare Research

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Sample Size in Natural Language Processing within Healthcare Research


Jaya Chaturvedi, Diana Shamsutdinova, Felix Zimmer, Sumithra Velupillai, Daniel Stahl, Robert Stewart, Angus Roberts


Sample size calculation is an essential step in most data-based disciplines. Large enough samples ensure representativeness of the population and determine the precision of estimates. This is true for most quantitative studies, including those that employ machine learning methods, such as natural language processing, where free-text is used to generate predictions and classify instances of text. Within the healthcare domain, the lack of sufficient corpora of previously collected data can be a limiting factor when determining sample sizes for new studies. This paper tries to address the issue by making recommendations on sample sizes for text classification tasks in the healthcare domain. Models trained on the MIMIC-III database of critical care records from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center were used to classify documents as having or not having Unspecified Essential Hypertension, the most common diagnosis code in the database. Simulations were performed using various classifiers on different sample sizes and class proportions. This was repeated for a comparatively less common diagnosis code within the database of diabetes mellitus without mention of complication. Smaller sample sizes resulted in better results when using a K-nearest neighbours classifier, whereas larger sample sizes provided better results with support vector machines and BERT models. Overall, a sample size larger than 1000 was sufficient to provide decent performance metrics. The simulations conducted within this study provide guidelines that can be used as recommendations for selecting appropriate sample sizes and class proportions, and for predicting expected performance, when building classifiers for textual healthcare data. The methodology used here can be modified for sample size estimates calculations with other datasets.

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