Understanding, navigating and communicating knowledge: Issues and challenges

V. L. Patel, A. W. Kushniruk

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)460-470
Number of pages11
JournalMethods of Information in Medicine
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - 1998


  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Evaluation
  • Knowledge Representation
  • Medical Vocabularies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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