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Methods Inf Med. 1998 Nov;37(4-5):460-70.

Understanding, navigating and communicating knowledge: issues and challenges.

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Centre for Medical Education, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


This paper presents a psychological perspective on key issues related to medical vocabularies. There have been rapid advances in the development of computer technology underlying medical information systems. However, in keeping with technological progress, we must also take into account advances in our understanding of human behaviour and learn from failures in human performance. A central issue examined in this paper is the extent to which we can develop generic vocabularies that are also flexible and adaptable to specific situations. Empirical research indicates that variability in human performance is much greater than what current medical classifications take into account. A related challenge is that of how to best develop vocabularies that meet the needs of users. Based on theoretical perspectives and research emerging from the domain of cognitive psychology, we suggest that an understanding of the cognitive mechanisms underlying the comprehension and application of terminology is required. It is argued that rather than beginning with highly specified terminologies, i.e. the normative approach, we might instead begin by examining the natural context of how health care workers acquire, understand and negotiate knowledge in practice.

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