Outside-In Thinking: How the Healthwise Taxonomy Connects You to Information You Need

Jennifer Farnum, Lead Metadata Specialist

Editor’s Note: Join us as we explore how the Healthwise metadata team makes our high-quality health education findable and meaningful. Check back for additional posts. Come back each week for a new topic.

In the 1990s, Healthwise pioneered the concept of Information Therapy—getting the right information to the right person at the right time. For this to happen, we understand that we need to speak your language—whether you are a clinician or a patient—and that you should be able to find our content with terms that are familiar to you. That was all about how we make health education useful to patients and clinicians. And now, 20 years later, we still start there. We like to think “outside-in” and have developed a health taxonomy that connects a consumer-friendly vocabulary to standardized medical terminologies.

The Healthwise Taxonomy—What Sets Us Apart

A taxonomy is a formal representation of the vocabulary in a domain (such as health). We use concepts and terms from our taxonomy to index Healthwise documents, to connect systems that use different vocabularies, and as a structure for navigating search results.

The Healthwise taxonomy sets itself apart by crosslinking health and medical concepts to standardized medical vocabularies and codesets from the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS), a database of 2.5 million concepts, 5 million terms, and more than 150 medical vocabularies. Our taxonomy concepts include industry standards such as ICD-10, ICD-9, SNOMED, CPT, LOINC and RxNorm.

Using these cross-linked terminologies, we ensure that our content can be integrated into a range of health systems and applications, including patient portals, call centers, hospital websites, and EMRs. That means no matter what system you are using or whether you’re using consumer keywords or an ICD-10 code, the right information is right where you need it.

The Structure—A Logical Map of Your World

Our taxonomy is organized in a way that is intuitive and easy to browse and explore. Top levels of the taxonomy comprise:

  • Anatomy
  • Conditions
  • Medications
  • Symptoms
  • Tests
  • Treatments
  • Wellness

Each of these areas can be expanded so that you can quickly see what Healthwise content is available and go directly to your area of interest. The hierarchy allows you to “drill down” to more specific concepts. For instance, you may want to narrow a search on Heart Rhythm Disorders to a particular type, such as Bradycardia (Slow Heart Rate).

The taxonomy includes synonyms for consumer and clinical terms, abbreviations, and acronyms. Whether you search for “stroke,” “cerebrovascular accident,” or “CVA,” you will be directed to the same medically relevant content. Homonyms are also separated so you can specify whether you’re searching for Cold (Upper Respiratory Infection) or Cold (Temperature).

Semantics—How We Make our Taxonomy “Intelligent”

The Healthwise taxonomy leverages semantic relationships to deliver content in flexible and customizable ways. Semantic relationships show how terms in the taxonomy are related to each other. This allows us to make powerful inferences so we can answer questions like “What medications are used to manage asthma?” or “What surgeries are recommended to treat a herniated disc?”

Examples of our semantic relationships include:

  • Conditions mapped to diagnostic procedures, medications, and treatments.
  • Medical specialties mapped to conditions, diagnostic procedures, medications, and treatments.

There’s More To Come
Check back in the coming weeks for more details on how we apply medical codes and for special insights from our Medical Director on how Healthwise metadata makes a difference.