Digital information technology can facilitate informed decision making by individuals regarding their personal health care. The digital divide separates those who do and those who do not have access to or otherwise make use of digital information. To close the digital divide, health care communications research must address a fundamental issue, the consumer vocabulary problem: consumers of health care, at least those who are laypersons, are not always familiar with the professional vocabulary and concepts used by providers of health care and by providers of health care information, and, conversely, health care and health care information providers are not always familiar with the vocabulary and concepts used by consumers. One way to address this problem is to develop a consumer entry vocabulary for health care communications.
To evaluate the potential of controlled vocabulary resources for supporting the development of consumer entry vocabulary for diabetes.
We used folk medical terms from the Dictionary of American Regional English project to create exended versions of 3 controlled vocabulary resources: the Unified Medical Language System Metathesaurus, the Eurodicautom of the European Commission's Translation Service, and the European Commission Glossary of popular and technical medical terms. We extracted consumer terms from consumer-authored materials, and physician terms from physician-authored materials. We used our extended versions of the vocabulary resources to link diabetes-related terms used by health care consumers to synonymous, nearly-synonymous, or closely-related terms used by family physicians. We also examined whether retrieval of diabetes-related World Wide Web information sites maintained by nonprofit health care professional organizations, academic organizations, or governmental organizations can be improved by substituting a physician term for its related consumer term in the query.
The Dictionary of American Regional English extension of the Metathesaurus provided coverage, either direct or indirect, of approximately 23% of the natural language consumer-term-physician-term pairs. The Dictionary of American Regional English extension of the Eurodicautom provided coverage for 16% of the term pairs. Both the Metathesaurus and the Eurodicautom indirectly related more terms than they directly related. A high percentage of covered term pairs, with more indirectly covered pairs than directly covered pairs, might be one way to make the most out of expensive controlled vocabulary resources. We compared retrieval of diabetes-related Web information sites using the physician terms to retrieval using related consumer terms We based the comparison on retrieval of sites maintained by non-profit healthcare professional organizations, academic organizations, or governmental organizations. The number of such sites in the first 20 results from a search was increased by substituting a physician term for its related consumer term in the query. This suggests that the Dictionary of American Regional English extensions of the Metathesaurus and Eurodicautom may be used to provide useful links from natural language consumer terms to natural language physician terms.
The Dictionary of American Regional English extensions of the Metathesaurus and Eurodicautom should be investigated further for support of consumer entry vocabulary for diabetes.