Mismatches between major subhierarchies and semantic tags in SNOMED CT

J Biomed Inform. 2018 May;81:1-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2018.02.009. Epub 2018 Feb 17.


The fully specified name of a concept in SNOMED CT is formed by a term to which in the typical case is added a semantic tag. The latter is meant to disambiguate homonymous terms and to indicate in which major subhierarchy of SNOMED CT that concept fits. We have developed a method to determine whether a concept's tag correctly identifies its place in the hierarchy, and applied this method to an analysis of all active concepts in every SNOMED CT release from January 2003 to January 2017. Our results show (1) that there are concepts in almost every release whose semantic tag does not match their placement in the hierarchy, (2) that it is primarily disorder concepts that are involved, and (3) that the number of such mismatches increase since the July 2012 version. Our analysis determined that it is primarily the absence of a mechanism in the SNOMED CT authoring environment to suggest stated relationships for very similar concepts that is responsible for the mismatches. We argue that the SNOMED CT authoring environment should treat the semantic tags as part of the formal structure so that methods can be implemented to keep the sub-hierarchies in sync with the semantic tags.

Keywords: Quality assurance; SNOMED CT; Semantic tags.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Data Collection
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Humans
  • Medical Informatics / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Semantics
  • Software
  • Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine*
  • Terminology as Topic