Characteristics of consumer terminology for health information retrieval

Qing Zeng, S. Kogan, N. Ash, R. A. Greenes, A. A. Boxwala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Objectives: As millions of consumers perform health information retrieval online, the mismatch between their terminology and the terminologies of the information sources could become a major barrier to successful retrievals. To address this problem, we studied the characteristics of consumer terminology for health information retrieval. Methods: Our study focused on consumer queries that were used on a consumer health service Web site and a consumer health information Web site. We analyzed data from the site-usage logs and conducted interviews with patients. Results: Our findings show that consumers' information retrieval performance is very poor. There are significant mismatches at all levels (lexical, semantic and mental models) between the consumer terminology and both the information source terminology and standard medical vocabularies. Conclusions: Comprehensive terminology support on all levels is needed for consumer health information retrieval.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-298
Number of pages10
JournalMethods of Information in Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002


  • Consumer health
  • Information retrieval
  • Medical vocabulary
  • Query analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Advanced and Specialized Nursing
  • Health Information Management


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