The National Palliative Care Research Center

Curing suffering through palliative care research.


Charlotta Lindvall, MD, PhD


Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Grant Year
Grant Term
Grant Type
Junior Faculty Career Development

Project Description
Developing Novel Computational Methods to Help Integrate Palliative Care in the Treatment of Advanced Heart Failure

Efforts to improve care for patients with life-limiting illness have been stymied by our inability to access patient data with the granularity and timeliness required for predictive analytics and outcomes research. This project seeks to uncover the narrative text of medical notes using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning to identify the full range of patients’ experiences and outcomes.

The increasing use of electronic health records combined with computational advances in NLP and machine learning have the potential to transform the narrative of medical notes into quantitative variables ready for use in statistical models. While underutilized in medicine, these methods are ubiquitous in business where NLP has revolutionized fraud detection, product recommendation, speech recognition, and customer segmentation. Similarly, NLP and machine learning have enormous potential to transform clinical research by unlocking access to free text variables, enabling complex pattern detection, thereby improving prediction accuracy. While useful in all aspects of health care, these tools offer particular relevance to palliative care, where the focus is on the qualitative experience of the patient and family.

Advanced heart failure presents an excellent test case for this approach because of its large patient population of more than 5.8 million in the United States, the challenge associated with predicting treatment response and mortality, and the tremendous variability in quality of life over the trajectory of illness. Using computational methods, we will extract free text variables from medical notes describing the patient and family experience over the illness trajectory of heart failure. We will specifically test the value of the natural language of medical notes to predict one-year mortality in heart failure. Our approach will expand the data sources available for palliative care research and better define patient needs and the impact of palliative care.


Charlotta Lindvall earned an MD and PhD (Medical Genetics) from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and was a researcher in cancer genetics for 7 years. In 2010, she undertook clinical training in the United States, completing residency in Internal Medicine and a Harvard fellowship in Palliative Care. Dr. Lindvall is currently completing a 2-year clinical research fellowship in general medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital. She will join the Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in July 2016. Dr. Lindvall’s research interests include developing computational methods to harness complex clinical data extracted from the electronic health record, with the goal of facilitating shared decision-making between seriously ill adults and their health care providers. Her research is supported by a collaboration with the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.