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J Biomed Inform. 2013 Feb;46(1):56-67. doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2012.08.006. Epub 2012 Sep 10.

Validating the semantics of a medical iconic language using ontological reasoning.

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LIM&BIO (EA3969), UFR SMBH, University Paris 13, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Bobigny, France.


To help clinicians read medical texts such as clinical practice guidelines or drug monographs, we proposed an iconic language called VCM. This language can use icons to represent the main medical concepts, including diseases, symptoms, treatments and follow-up procedures, by combining various pictograms, shapes and colors. However, the semantics of this language have not been formalized, and users may create inconsistent icons, e.g. by combining the "tumor" shape and the "sleeping" pictograms into a "tumor of sleeping" icon. This work aims to represent the VCM language using DLs and OWL for evaluating its semantics by reasoners, and in particular for determining inconsistent icons. We designed an ontology for formalized the semantics of VCM icons using the Protégé editor and scripts for translating the VCM lexicon in OWL. We evaluated the ability of the ontology to determine icon consistency for a set of 100 random icons. The evaluation showed good results for determining icon consistency, with a high sensitivity. The ontology may also be useful for the design of mapping between VCM and other medical terminologies, for generating textual labels for icons, and for developing user interfaces for creating VCM icons.

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