THE SCIENCE OF NLG — HEALTH CARE CASE STUDY
NLG Software is helping comfort the parents of babies
in neo-natal intensive care
Arria NLG Chief Scientist Ehud Reiter has this vision for NLG in the healthcare field: “One day
soon, NLG will be a great empowering tool for people in everyday life, giving them understandable
access to medical information about themselves in a form and language that is appropriate for
The BabyTalk research project, an ambitious undertaking of the University of Aberdeen, the University of Edinburgh, others, and a team
that included Arria NLG Chief Scientists Ehud Reiter and Yaji Sripada (working as faculty members of the
University of Aberdeen), played an important role during the due diligence phase of the acquisition of
Data2Text Limited by Arria NLG. It provided a strong proof point in the healthcare vertical and showed the
potential NLG technologies have to deliver value in an environment as mission critical as a Neonatal Intensive
Care Unit (NICU) at a major hospital.
The BabyTalk case study is included as a case study because it is valuable in the process of understanding
the technology. Arria NLG does not own the intellectual property (IP) associated with the BabyTalk Research
Project. The IP is the property of the University of Aberdeen. Such IP is an earlier version of NLG
which is superseded by the Arria NLG Engine technologies. Arria NLG Chief Scientists remain active in the
BabyTalk project as academics while Arria NLG staff provide ongoing support services for the BabyTalk
modules that are active in the NICU.
See an example of the BabyTalk NLG output below
BabyTalk: In the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), babies are connected to sensors and systems that electronically
monitor, record, report and display the condition of each baby. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff
are trained to interpret and use this data to aid them in the care of the baby. The data is also used by medical
staff to generate a variety of reports such as shift changeover reports and reports to the parents of the baby. For
the BabyTalk project an early version of NLG software was built by the University to: a) embody the expertise of
both the medical specialists and the nurses who attend to the babies, b) accept input data from the NICU monitoring
systems and c) automatically write three kinds of reports, for three different purposes, from the same digital
input data. BabyTalk involved three modules:
BabyTalk Doctor: This module generated written summaries of clinical data over a relatively short period,
roughly 45 minutes, to support decision making by doctors and nurses.
BabyTalk Nurse: This module generated partial shift summaries, focusing on important events related to a
baby’s respiration and circulation, in addition to background information, current status and potential problems.
Handover is a complex process, and ineffective handover can endanger patient safety. There is no established
best practice for handover. BabyTalk Nurse showed that the handover problem is solvable. It showed that an
NLG computer system which automatically generates understandable and helpful shift summary texts from a
complex, state-of-the-art patient information system holding a large amount of heterogeneous data is viable.
BabyTalk Family: This module generated easy to understand, plain English reports on the medical condition of
babies in neonatal care for families. These reports are available online to the infant’s parents, providing a simple
summary of their child’s progress. When a newborn baby is admitted to a NICU, parents are frequently overwhelmed
by the experience. The neonatal environment in which their baby is looked after can cause feelings of
worry, confusion, and helplessness. Parents would often like more information about what is happening to their
baby: the baby’s current weight, oxygen levels, milk feeding quantities, and so on. This, coupled with understanding,
enables parents to adapt and cope with the situation. This sort of information is important because it
helps parents to take on their parental role, as well as get involved with the care of their child’s delicate emotional
state. BabyTalk Family solves this problem. It extracts the key facts of interest to parents (which are distinct
from the key facts of interest to doctors and nurses), and generates a textual report which humanises the
medical facts for parents, presenting them in a way which is both understandable and sensitive to parents. It automatically
generates these easy to understand reports and makes them available to the infant’s parents online,
thus providing easy and immediate access to a simple summary of their child’s progress.