A formal representation for messages containing compositional expressions

Peter L. Elkin, Steven H. Brown, Michael J. Lincoln, Michael Hogarth, Alan Rector

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Clinically useful controlled vocabularies should represent healthcare concepts completely and with high reliability. Anticipating and pre-coordinating all possible expressions (e.g. 'fracture of the left femur' and 'fracture of the right femur') is not feasible. Variation in practice styles, requirements for the granularity of content, the exponential growth of terminology size, and increased cost of maintaining pre-coordinated terminologies lead us to conclude that no enumerated terminology can ever be truly comprehensive. Compositional terminologies are one potential solution to the problem of content completeness, but carry a risk of generating expressions whose equivalency cannot be easily determined. In order for post-coordinated expressions to be comparable, a sufficiently detailed formal mechanism for information representation is necessary. Comparable data for post-coordinated expressions requires normalization of both the contents and the semantics of the contents of the terminology with the information captured in post-coordinated expressions. In addition, comparable data requires a storage and messaging paradigm robust enough to faithfully represent the information contained within arbitrarily complex compositional expressions. We present a formalism for storing, and sending messages containing compositional expressions using a large-scale reference terminology. It is our intent that this formalism be used to algorithmically determine whether or not messages contain comparable data. In addition, we advocate transmitting the upward transitive closure of subsumption of all concepts, to improve comparability of data and to decrease reliance on locally stored versions of the underlying reference terminology. © 2003 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)89-102
    Number of pages13
    JournalInternational journal of medical informatics
    Issue number2-3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2003


    • Controlled health vocabulary
    • Description logic
    • Messaging
    • Terminology


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