Exploring and developing consumer health vocabularies

J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2006 Jan-Feb;13(1):24-9. doi: 10.1197/jamia.M1761. Epub 2005 Oct 12.


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, helping to bridge this vocabulary gap. However, despite the recent research on mismatches between consumer and professional language (e.g., lexical, semantic, and explanatory), there have been few systematic efforts to develop and evaluate CHVs. This paper presents the point of view that CHV development is practical and necessary for extending research on informatics-based tools to facilitate consumer health information seeking, retrieval, and understanding. In support of the view, we briefly describe a distributed, bottom-up approach for (1) exploring the relationship between common consumer health expressions and professional concepts and (2) developing an open-access, preliminary (draft) "first-generation" CHV. While recognizing the limitations of the approach (e.g., not addressing psychosocial and cultural factors), we suggest that such exploratory research and development will yield insights into the nature of consumer health expressions and assist developers in creating tools and applications to support consumer health information seeking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Health
  • Informatics
  • Patients*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Vocabulary*
  • Vocabulary, Controlled*