Finding Consumer Friendly Display Names from UMLS.

by Nadeem Nazeer

Very often while building health care systems there arises a need for displaying consumer friendly names for health care concepts.  This allows consumers not so well versed in health care domain to find  “names” he knows in his daily life from the system, e.g: To show display name “tumor”  for “neoplasm” is a better choice for public portals.

Qing T. Zeng and Tony Tse mention :

“Laypersons (“consumers”) often have difficulty finding, understanding, and acting on health information due to gaps in their domain knowledge. Ideally, consumer health vocabularies (CHVs) would reflect the different ways consumers express and think about health topics.”(1)

They further say:

Although it has been long recognized that laypersons (“consumers”) and health care professionals express and think about health-related concepts differently, such mismatches in language continue to hinder effective communication, health information seeking, and, ultimately, informed decision making. This vocabulary gap is becoming a more serious problem as consumers increasingly explore health-related information resources on their own and assume greater responsibility for personal health care. Further, technical terminology (or jargon) is a barrier to health literacy, defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”(2) Low health literacy has been associated with poor health outcomes (3).

Good news is that different terms from so many vocabularies for concepts in UMLS can be filtered by some attributes/values, to select consumer friendly display names for these concepts.

Following are some attribs/values which we can use to target needed terms from UMLS for specific healthcare domain.

1. Source vocabularies (SAB) which relate to domain you are most concerned with.

CHV                             Consumer health vocabulary
MEDLINEPLUS                             MedlinePlus

2. Semantic Type (s).

3. Term Type ( TTY) , e.g. TTY= “PT ” : Preferred term in source vocabulary, full table here and one TTY value is ETCF (Entry term, consumer friendly description) but not mentioned for max concepts.

Value     Description Rank
ET     Entry term 3
EP     Print Entry term 4
ETCF     Entry term, consumer friendly description 1
PT     Designated preferred name 5
MH     Main Heading(for mesh) 6
PEP     Preferred entry term 2


4. Term Status (TS) 

TS (Term Status)                 Description
P Preferred LUI of the CUI
S Non-Preferred LUI of the CUI
p Preferred LUI of the CUI, suppressible (only used in ORF MRCON)
s Non-Preferred LUI of the CUI, suppressible (only used in ORF MRCON)



5. String Type (STT) 

STT (String Type) Description
PF Preferred form of term
VCW Case and word-order variant of the preferred form
VC Case variant of the preferred form
VO Variant of the preferred form
VW Word-order variant of the preferred form

All these attributes/values in UMLS Metathesaurus can be used to filter and select terms which appear more consumer friendly and carry more weight to represent a certain concept.  These are either preferred term(s) for a particular concept or entry term(s) and when combined with selected semantic type(s) and vocabularies seem more concerned with domain of interest and help in further refining and selection.


1. Exploring and Developing Consumer Health Vocabularies

2. Ratzan SC, Parker RM. Introduction. In: National Library of Medicine current bibliographies in medicine: health literacy, Selden CR, Zorn M, Ratzan SC, Parker RM, editors. NLM Pub No CMB 200-1. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000.

3. Institute of Medicine. Health literacy: a prescription to end confusion. Washington DC: National Academy Press, 2004, pp. 81–103.

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