Artif Intell Med. 2023 Sep;143:102622. doi: 10.1016/j.artmed.2023.102622. Epub 2023 Jul 9.
Civil registration and vital statistics systems capture birth and death events to compile vital statistics and to provide legal rights to citizens. Vital statistics are a key factor in promoting public health policies and the health of the population. Medical certification of cause of death is the preferred source of cause of death information. However, two thirds of all deaths worldwide are not captured in routine mortality information systems and their cause of death is unknown. Verbal autopsy is an interim solution for estimating the cause of death distribution at the population level in the absence of medical certification. A Verbal Autopsy (VA) consists of an interview with the relative or the caregiver of the deceased. The VA includes both Closed Questions (CQs) with structured answer options, and an Open Response (OR) consisting of a free narrative of the events expressed in natural language and without any pre-determined structure. There are a number of automated systems to analyze the CQs to obtain cause specific mortality fractions with limited performance. We hypothesize that the incorporation of the text provided by the OR might convey relevant information to discern the CoD. The experimental layout compares existing Computer Coding Verbal Autopsy methods such as Tariff 2.0 with other approaches well suited to the processing of structured inputs as is the case of the CQs. Next, alternative approaches based on language models are employed to analyze the OR. Finally, we propose a new method with a bi-modal input that combines the CQs and the OR. Empirical results corroborated that the CoD prediction capability of the Tariff 2.0 algorithm is outperformed by our method taking into account the valuable information conveyed by the OR. As an added value, with this work we made available the software to enable the reproducibility of the results attained with a version implemented in R to make the comparison with Tariff 2.0 evident.