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Logo of bmcmidmBioMed Centralsearchsubmit a manuscriptregisterthis articleBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2012; 12: 12.
Published online 2012 February 29. doi:  10.1186/1472-6947-12-12
PMCID: PMC3309945

Performance evaluation of unified medical language system®'s synonyms expansion to query PubMed



PubMed is the main access to medical literature on the Internet. In order to enhance the performance of its information retrieval tools, primarily non-indexed citations, the authors propose a method: expanding users' queries using Unified Medical Language System' (UMLS) synonyms i.e. all the terms gathered under one unique Concept Unique Identifier.


This method was evaluated using queries constructed to emphasize the differences between this new method and the current PubMed automatic term mapping. Four experts assessed citation relevance.


Using UMLS, we were able to retrieve new citations in 45.5% of queries, which implies a small increase in recall. The new strategy led to a heterogeneous 23.7% mean increase in non-indexed citation retrieved. Of these, 82% have been published less than 4 months earlier. The overall mean precision was 48.4% but differed according to the evaluators, ranging from 36.7% to 88.1% (Inter rater agreement was poor: kappa = 0.34).


This study highlights the need for specific search tools for each type of user and use-cases. The proposed strategy may be useful to retrieve recent scientific advancement.

Articles from BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making are provided here courtesy of BioMed Central