The Real World > Silverchair

02 April
2010

The Real World logoThe thesaurus supporting our Cortex medical taxonomy is distinguished from other standards by its inclusion of “real-world” equivalents. We generally call these “equivalents” rather than synonyms because we include things that arguably aren’t purely synonyms—jargon or shorthand versions of medical terminology that we run across in the medical literature we tag. More often, though, we learn about these equivalents (and common misspellings, which we also add to our thesaurus) by reviewing search queries submitted by real users to the sites we’ve built. Some examples: “C diff” for “Clostridium difficile,” “FB in foot” for “foreign body in foot,” “P4P” for “pay for performance,” “echo” for “echocardiography.”

Unlike some taxonomies that have a more “academic” (read: stodgy) approach to what is considered a synonym, we put real-world equivalents in our thesaurus because we want it to work for real-world users. Many users of our health care information sites are pressed for time and are looking for an answer to a specific question. They shouldn’t have to think very hard about how to structure a query so that a search engine can understand it. It’s our job to be knowledgeable about both their language and their lingo. At Silverchair, we believe the searcher is never wrong (our version of “the customer is always right”).

Bob Wachter, with whom we’re privileged to work on two sites sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (PSNet and WebM&M), recently wrote a humorous blog post about the way his hospital colleagues at UCSF (and other hospitals) commonly turn the nouns of their everyday work life into verbs as a shorthand way of communicating. For example, a resident might report that she “heparinized” her patient, or that a patient ready for discharge has been “housed and spoused,” meaning it had been determined that the patient had somewhere to go and someone to care for him. In addition, he reports the creation of new terms based on healthcare IT functionality, based, for example, on the way buttons are named in an EHR (“I done-ed it”).

That post is a fun reminder of the many ways medical lingo—and language—evolve, and the importance of attentive, systematic approaches to managing and supporting the information needs of those who invent the common parlance of their specialty in the course of doing their work (we hope, while using the sites we develop for them).

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