Magazine article Information Today

SCAMC Features New Unified Medical Language System and Standards

Magazine article Information Today

SCAMC Features New Unified Medical Language System and Standards

Article excerpt

SCAMC Features New Unified Medical Language System and Standards

Medical vocabularies, and especially the National Library of Medicine's (NLM) Unified Medical Language System (UMLS), received a great deal of attention during the 14th Annual Symposium on Computers in Medical Care (SCAMC), a conference of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMA). Held in Washington, D.C., November 4-7, 1990, SCAMC drew speakers and an audience from many countries as well as from many disciplines in the health sciences.

Thirty-seven professional organizations, 17 educational institutions, 11 U.S. government agencies - sometimes with several different divisions - six research organizations, five user groups, and four international standards and business organizations were sponsoring and cooperating organizations of this conference.

SCAMC is designed to inform a variety of health care professionals about current and potential applications of computer technology to health care, and to identify areas of research and development that need to be addressed. Among the professionals at this SCAMC were:

* physicians

* health care administrators

* biomedical scientists

* information scientists

* librarians

* engineers

* nurses

With such a diverse focus and audience it is indeed notable that more than 15 papers - including the opening address of the opening plenary session - were devoted to standards for published literature and their implications for medical informatics.

Linking User and Computer Through


In the opening address, NLM's Betsy L. Humphreys stated that the effective practice of medicine depends on the ability of health professionals to locate relevant information quickly and to interpret it correctly. UMLS is being developed to help make the conceptual link between the user's question and relevant machine-readable information. The paper published in the proceedings was co-authored with Donald A. B. Lindberg, M.D., NLM's Director.

The UMLS project was started in 1986 as a long-term R&D effort designed to ease the retrieval and integration of information from multiple machine-readable biomedical information sources. These sources include:

* descriptions of the biomedical literature

* clinical records

* databanks

* knowledge-based systems

* directories of people and organizations

The variety of vocabularies and classifications used in these different sources poses a significant barrier to the use of machine-readable information by health professionals and biomedical researchers. In addition, the diversity makes it difficult to develop effective search interfaces to assist these users. Humphreys described a variety of "de facto, derigueur, and even useful" standards for the published literature which, as information professionals know cover descriptive elements and subject content. Players in the field of standards include ALA, NISO, ANSI, ASTM, and NLM; standards accepted or in process are CALS, SGML, ISSN, ISBN, and data exchange protocols.

The UMLS project currently focuses on the development, testing, and evaluation of the first versions of three new knowledge sources:


Semantic Network

Information Sources Map

Metathesaurus: The Metathesaurus is a central vocabulary tool of the UMLS. It is a database of information about biomedical terms that appears in several different controlled vocabularies and classifications. Meta-1 was issued for experimental use in Fall 1990. A large database, it encompasses 66,000 concepts and about 100,000 terms, about 200-plus megabytes. Included in the base vocabulary are all terms in the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), those of several professional associations, and selected terms from the Library of Congress' Subject Headings (LCSH). …

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