Surgical site infections (SSIs) are the most common and costly of hospital acquired infections. An important step in reducing SSIs is accurate SSI detection, which enables measurement quality improvement, but currently remains expensive through manual chart review. Building off of previous work for automated and semi-automated SSI detection using expert-derived “strong features” from clinical notes, we hypothesized that additional SSI phrases may be contained in clinical notes. We systematically characterized phrases and expressions associated with SSIs. While 83% of expert-derived original terms overlapped with new terms and modifiers, an additional 362 modifiers associated with both positive and negative SSI signals were identified and 62 new base observations and actions were identified. Clinical note queries with the most common base terms revealed another 49 modifiers. Clinical notes contain a wide variety of expressions describing infections occurring among surgical specialties which may provide value in improving the performance of SSI detection algorithms.
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