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In JMIR medical informatics ; h5-index 23.0

BACKGROUND : The unified medical language system (UMLS) has been a critical tool in biomedical and health informatics, and the year 2021 marks its 30th anniversary. UMLS brings together many broadly used vocabularies and standards in the biomedical field to facilitate interoperability among different computer systems and applications.

OBJECTIVE : Despite its longevity, there is no comprehensive publication analysis of the use of UMLS. Thus, this review and analysis was conducted to provide an overview of UMLS and its usage in English-language peer-reviewed publications, with the objective to provide a comprehensive understanding of how UMLS has been used in English-language peer-reviewed publications over the last 30 years.

METHODS : PubMed, ACM Digital Library, and the Nursing & Allied Health Database were used to search for literature. The primary search strategy was as follows: UMLS was used as a MeSH term or a keyword or appeared in the title or abstract. Only English-language publications were considered. The publications were screened first, then coded and categorized iteratively, following grounded theory. The review process followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines.

RESULTS : A total of 943 publications were included in the final analysis. After analysis and categorization of publications, UMLS was found to be used in the following emerging themes or areas (numbers of publications are given in parentheses): natural language processing (NLP; 230), information retrieval (125), terminology study (90), ontology and modeling (80), medical subdomains (76), other language studies (53), artificial intelligence tools and applications (46), patient care (35), data mining and knowledge discovery (25), medical education (20), degree-related theses (13), and digital library (5) as well as UMLS itself (150).

CONCLUSIONS : UMLS has been used successfully in patient care, medical education, digital libraries, and software development, as originally planned, as well as in degree-related theses, the building of artificial intelligence tools, data mining and knowledge discovery, foundational work in methodology and middle layers that may lead to advanced products. NLP, UMLS itself, and information retrieval are the three most common themes in the publications. The results, although largely related to academia, demonstrate that UMLS achieves its intended uses successfully as well as achieves usage broadly beyond its original intentions.


Jing Xia