Moving towards a unified language for radiology

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A group supported by RSNA called RadLex has set out to develop a unified terminology, or language, for radiology. Though there are already various groupings of medical terminology (often called lexicons) in broad use in radiology -- such as the ACR Index from the American College of Radiology and SNOMED-CT from the College of American Pathology -- there are all focused on different areas of the field and also are chock full of disparities. Through its program RadLex hopes to provide a free tool to solve this problem.
   
What RadLex has undertaken is more than just a common vocabulary, however. It is more ambitious than that. What the group hopes to provide is a way to uniformly index and share radiology information with dynamic tools that provide for point and click navigation, quick retrieval of data, and something that will give clinicians real-time support and also reduce medical errors, said Curtis P. Langlotz, MD, PhD, chair RSNA RadLex Steering Committee during an Informatics Classroom session on Wednesday at the RSNA meeting in Chicago. 

Beyond larger things such as unifying major terminology sets developed by large organizations like the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS), Langlotz cited studies which have looked at simple semantic differences in the ways radiologists describe small details with phrases like "appears to be" which can also be said "most likely" or perhaps in other ways. What seems to be a minor difference can be a real headache especially when medical data is supposed to be shared across networks and system.

The set of terms could be used for clinical reports in EMRs, will act as a successor to the ACR Index, and will also provide common data elements to improve clinical imaging research, Langlotz added.

RadLex is comprised of 26 organizations, 9 committees, and 92 radiologists. It has so far added 5,308 (and growing) anatomic concepts to its hierarchical structure.