Capturing and retrieving medical terminology for translation purposes: a brief overview of thesauri, databases, coding and indexing systems, ontologies and standardization

Heidi Verplaetse, KU Leuven (Belgium)
Cornelia Wermuth, KU Leuven (Belgium)

Abstract | Medical language is a natural language, and medical terminology aims to optimize communication between experts. Electronic storage, accessibility and retrieval of patient data has been added to the needs of modern medical practice. Effective use of medical information in electronic form requires  concept systems. Various nomenclatures, vocabularies, terminologies and coding systems have been developed to support the effective communication among medical experts and the recording of patient data. In this context the paper aims to describe the fundamentals of medical concept formation, the different types of medical concepts and the specific properties of medical terms. An overview will be presented of the most important types of terminologies (controlled vocabularies) and databases. We will introduce the following types of terminologies, databases and classifications: anatomical and nosological nomenclatures, coding systems (International Classification of Diseases (ICD), Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine (SNOMED), indexing systems (Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)), thesauri and metathesauri (Unified Medical Language System (UMLS), the bibliographic database Medline (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online), and the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) for medical sciences. In addition, we will devote attention to prevailing challenges which are due to two factors, viz. a lack of inter¬¨national consistency as well as an unstable term-concept relation. Regarding the former, we will refer to recent medical terminology standardization activities at the national and international levels (CEN/TC 251). With the need for compatibility and interoperability of terminology between independent systems, national and international medical terminology standardization activities have been initiated by the respective standardization bodies. The lack of an unambigous concept term relation is a recognized shortcoming in the field, which may be attributed to a lack of consistent term definitions. In this respect we call for increased efforts for consistent, unambiguous and precise term definitions for new medical terms.

Bio | Heidi Verplaetse is Assistant Professor at KU Leuven, Campus Antwerpen. She lectures English in the domains of translation (medical/scientific, business, journalistic) and writing (business, journalistic) in the Master in Translation and in the Bachelor in Applied Linguistics, and English external communication in the Master Multilingual Communication. She is head of the English section at Campus Antwerpen. Her earlier teaching included English phonology & phonetics at Ghent University, where she subsequently also worked on research projects in the domain of knowledge management based on automatic retrieval of (causal and related) semantic relations and anaphora. Her PhD in English linguistics (Ghent University, 2008) was situated in the domain of modality, based on data from the British National Corpus. She also published in the domain of business communication. Her current research interests are situated in the domains of specialized (medical) translation, translation quality and the use of CAT tools, trans-editing of journalistic texts, (the evolution of) translation work and processes in students, and the expression of epistemic modality and related semantic categories for the expression of author commitment in historical scientific writing. She is a member of the Research Group Quantitative Lexicology and Variational Linguistics (QLVL) at KU Leuven.

Bio | Maria-Cornelia Wermuth is Associate Professor at KU Leuven (Campus Antwerpen) at the Department of Applied Linguistics. She lectures German grammar and Terminology and IT in the Bachelor in applied language studies and medical translation in the Master in Translation. She completed a PhD in Language and Literature awarded in April 2005 at the Free University of Amsterdam (Netherlands). The topic of her doctoral thesis dealt with the translation of the ICD-9-CM classification and the associated problems. Her main areas of interest are specialized (medical) translation, terminology, translation tools and terminological computer applications, applied cognitive linguistics (medical sublanguage), and frame semantics. Her current research focuses on medical ontologies and their relationship to terminological concept systems. She is also affiliated researcher of the Faculty of Arts at KU Leuven and head of the research unit Translation and Technology.

Event Timeslots (1)

Day 2 | Friday, June 21
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Heidi Verplaetse & Cornelia Wermuth, KU Leuven (Belgium)