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Semantic search and inferencing in health informatics

Consider a person searching electronic health records, a search for the term 'cracked skull’ should return documents that contain the term 'cranium fracture’. A information retrieval systems is required that matches concepts, not just keywords. Further more, determining relevance of a query to a document requires inference – its not simply matching concepts. For example a document containing 'dialysis machine’ should align with a query for 'kidney disease’. Collectively we describe this problem as the 'semantic gap’ – the difference between the raw medical data and the way a human interprets it. This paper presents an approach to semantic search of health records by combining two previous approaches: an ontological approach using the SNOMED CT medical ontology; and a distributional approach using semantic space vector space models. Our approach will be applied to a specific problem in health informatics: the matching of electronic patient records to clinical trials.

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