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In Journal of medical Internet research ; h5-index 88.0

BACKGROUND : Interoperability and secondary use of data is a challenge in health care. Specifically, the reuse of clinical free text remains an unresolved problem. The Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine Clinical Terms (SNOMED CT) has become the universal language of health care and presents characteristics of a natural language. Its use to represent clinical free text could constitute a solution to improve interoperability.

OBJECTIVE : Although the use of SNOMED and SNOMED CT has already been reviewed, its specific use in processing and representing unstructured data such as clinical free text has not. This review aims to better understand SNOMED CT's use for representing free text in medicine.

METHODS : A scoping review was performed on the topic by searching MEDLINE, Embase, and Web of Science for publications featuring free-text processing and SNOMED CT. A recursive reference review was conducted to broaden the scope of research. The review covered the type of processed data, the targeted language, the goal of the terminology binding, the method used and, when appropriate, the specific software used.

RESULTS : In total, 76 publications were selected for an extensive study. The language targeted by publications was 91% (n=69) English. The most frequent types of documents for which the terminology was used are complementary exam reports (n=18, 24%) and narrative notes (n=16, 21%). Mapping to SNOMED CT was the final goal of the research in 21% (n=16) of publications and a part of the final goal in 33% (n=25). The main objectives of mapping are information extraction (n=44, 39%), feature in a classification task (n=26, 23%), and data normalization (n=23, 20%). The method used was rule-based in 70% (n=53) of publications, hybrid in 11% (n=8), and machine learning in 5% (n=4). In total, 12 different software packages were used to map text to SNOMED CT concepts, the most frequent being Medtex, Mayo Clinic Vocabulary Server, and Medical Text Extraction Reasoning and Mapping System. Full terminology was used in 64% (n=49) of publications, whereas only a subset was used in 30% (n=23) of publications. Postcoordination was proposed in 17% (n=13) of publications, and only 5% (n=4) of publications specifically mentioned the use of the compositional grammar.

CONCLUSIONS : SNOMED CT has been largely used to represent free-text data, most frequently with rule-based approaches, in English. However, currently, there is no easy solution for mapping free text to this terminology and to perform automatic postcoordination. Most solutions conceive SNOMED CT as a simple terminology rather than as a compositional bag of ontologies. Since 2012, the number of publications on this subject per year has decreased. However, the need for formal semantic representation of free text in health care is high, and automatic encoding into a compositional ontology could be a solution.

Gaudet-Blavignac Christophe, Foufi Vasiliki, Bjelogrlic Mina, Lovis Christian


SNOMED CT, natural language processing, scoping review, terminology