Representing the UMLS as an object-oriented database: Modeling issues and advantages

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Objective: The Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) combines many well-established authoritative medical informatics terminologies in one knowledge representation system. Such a resource is very valuable to the health care community and industry. However, the UMLS is very large and complex and poses serious comprehension problems for users and maintenance personnel. The authors present a representation to support the user's comprehension and navigation of the UMLS. Design: An object-oriented database (OODB) representation is used to represent the two major components of the UMLS - the Metathesaurus and the Semantic Network - as a unified system. The semantic types of the Semantic Network are modeled as semantic type classes. Intersection classes are defined to model concepts of multiple semantic types, which are removed from the semantic type classes. Results: The authors provide examples of how the intersection classes help expose omissions of concepts, highlight errors of semantic type classification, and uncover ambiguities of concepts in the UMLS. The resulting UMLS OODB schema is deeper and more refined than the Semantic Network, since intersection classes are introduced. The Metathesaurus is classified into more mutually exclusive, uniform sets of concepts. The schema improves the user's comprehension and navigation of the Metathesaurus. Conclusions: The UMLS OODB schema supports the user's comprehension and navigation of the Metathesaurus. It also helps expose and resolve modeling problems in the UMLS.

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Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association

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