OBJECTIVE: Development of a general natural-language processor that identifies clinical information in narrative reports and maps that information into a structured representation containing clinical terms. DESIGN: The natural-language processor provides three phases of processing, all of which are driven by different knowledge sources. The first phase performs the parsing. It identifies the structure of the text through use of a grammar that defines semantic patterns and a target form. The second phase, regularization, standardizes the terms in the initial target structure via a compositional mapping of multi-word phrases. The third phase, encoding, maps the terms to a controlled vocabulary. Radiology is the test domain for the processor and the target structure is a formal model for representing clinical information in that domain. MEASUREMENTS: The impression sections of 230 radiology reports were encoded by the processor. Results of an automated query of the resultant database for the occurrences of four diseases were compared with the analysis of a panel of three physicians to determine recall and precision. RESULTS: Without training specific to the four diseases, recall and precision of the system (combined effect of the processor and query generator) were 70% and 87%. Training of the query component increased recall to 85% without changing precision.