Can SNOMED CT fulfill the vision of a compositional terminology? Analyzing the use case for problem list

AMIA Annu Symp Proc. 2011;2011:181-8. Epub 2011 Oct 22.


We analyzed 598 of 63,952 terms employed in problem list entries from seven major healthcare institutions that were not mapped with UMLS to SNOMED CT when preparing the NLM UMLS-CORE problem list subset. We intended to determine whether published or post-coordinated SNOMED concepts could accurately capture the problems as stated by the clinician and to characterize the workload for the local terminology manager. From the terms we analyzed, we estimate that 7.5% of the total terms represent ambiguous statements that require clarification. Of those terms which were unambiguous, we estimate that 38.1% could be encoded using the SNOMED CT January 2011 pre-coordinated (published core) content. 60.4% of unambiguous terms required post-coordination to capture the term meaning within the SNOMED model. Approximately 28.5% of post-coordinated content could not be fully defined and required primitive forms. This left 1.5% of unambiguous terms which were expressed with meaning which could not be represented in SNOMED CT. We estimate from our study that 98.5% of clinical terms unambiguously suggested for the problem list can be equated to published concepts or can be modeled with SNOMED CT but that roughly one in four SNOMED modeled expressions fail to represent the full meaning of the term. Implications for the business model of the local terminology manager and the development of SNOMED CT are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Subject Headings*
  • Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Unified Medical Language System