Natural language processing of multi-hospital electronic health records for public health surveillance of suicidality

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There is an urgent need to monitor the mental health of large populations, especially during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to timely identify the most at-risk subgroups and to design targeted prevention campaigns. We therefore developed and validated surveillance indicators related to suicidality: the monthly number of hospitalisations caused by suicide attempts and the prevalence among them of five known risks factors. They were automatically computed analysing the electronic health records of fifteen university hospitals of the Paris area, France, using natural language processing algorithms based on artificial intelligence. We evaluated the relevance of these indicators conducting a retrospective cohort study. Considering 2,911,920 records contained in a common data warehouse, we tested for changes after the pandemic outbreak in the slope of the monthly number of suicide attempts by conducting an interrupted time-series analysis. Our study demonstrates that textual clinical data collected in multiple hospitals can be jointly analysed to compute timely indicators describing mental health conditions of populations. Our findings also highlight the need to better take into account the violence imposed on women, especially at early ages and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.