Algorithmic and user study of an autocompletion algorithm on a large medical vocabulary

J Biomed Inform. 2012 Feb;45(1):107-19. doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2011.09.004. Epub 2011 Oct 11.


Introduction: Autocompletion supports human-computer interaction in software applications that let users enter textual data. We will be inspired by the use case in which medical professionals enter ontology concepts, catering the ongoing demand for structured and standardized data in medicine.

Objectives: Goal is to give an algorithmic analysis of one particular autocompletion algorithm, called multi-prefix matching algorithm, which suggests terms whose words' prefixes contain all words in the string typed by the user, e.g., in this sense, opt ner me matches optic nerve meningioma. Second we aim to investigate how well it supports users entering concepts from a large and comprehensive medical vocabulary (snomed ct).

Methods: We give a concise description of the multi-prefix algorithm, and sketch how it can be optimized to meet required response time. Performance will be compared to a baseline algorithm, which gives suggestions that extend the string typed by the user to the right, e.g. optic nerve m gives optic nerve meningioma, but opt ner me does not. We conduct a user experiment in which 12 participants are invited to complete 40 snomed ct terms with the baseline algorithm and another set of 40 snomed ct terms with the multi-prefix algorithm.

Results: Our results show that users need significantly fewer keystrokes when supported by the multi-prefix algorithm than when supported by the baseline algorithm.

Conclusions: The proposed algorithm is a competitive candidate for searching and retrieving terms from a large medical ontology.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Records Systems, Computerized / standards*
  • Middle Aged
  • Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine
  • User-Computer Interface
  • Vocabulary, Controlled*