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West J Emerg Med. 2019 Oct 24;20(6):910-917. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2019.8.44230.

Identifying Emergency Department Symptom-Based Diagnoses with the Unified Medical Language System.

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Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Department of Emergency Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Chicago, Illinois.
Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.



Many patients who are discharged from the emergency department (ED) with a symptom-based discharge diagnosis (SBD) have post-discharge challenges related to lack of a definitive discharge diagnosis and follow-up plan. There is no well-defined method for identifying patients with a SBD without individual chart review. We describe a method for automated identification of SBDs from ICD-10 codes using the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) Metathesaurus.


We mapped discharge diagnosis, with use of ICD-10 codes from a one-month period of ED discharges at an urban, academic ED to UMLS concepts and semantic types. Two physician reviewers independently manually identified all discharge diagnoses consistent with SBDs. We calculated inter-rater reliability for manual review and the sensitivity and specificity for our automated process for identifying SBDs against this "gold standard."


We identified 3642 ED discharges with 1382 unique discharge diagnoses that corresponded to 875 unique ICD-10 codes and 10 UMLS semantic types. Over one third (37.5%, n = 1367) of ED discharges were assigned codes that mapped to the "Sign or Symptom" semantic type. Inter-rater reliability for manual review of SBDs was very good (0.87). Sensitivity and specificity of our automated process for identifying encounters with SBDs were 84.7% and 96.3%, respectively.


Use of our automated process to identify ICD-10 codes that classify into the UMLS "Sign or Symptom" semantic type identified the majority of patients with a SBD. While this method needs refinement to increase sensitivity of capture, it has potential to automate an otherwise highly time-consuming process. This novel use of informatics methods can facilitate future research specific to patients with SBDs.

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