[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 23-Apr-2008
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Contact: Charlotte Webber
charlotte.webber@biomedcentral.com
44-020-763-19980
BioMed Central

A new iconic drug information system inspired by road signs

IMAGE: VCM for diabetes treatment.

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Although drug prescriptions are notoriously difficult to read, prescribing errors due to a lack of knowledge of drug properties are a worse problem.

Now, a new information icon system has been developed by researchers in France. The researchers describe their system, a graphical language for medical knowledge visualisation called VCM (Visualisation des Connaissances Médicales), in the open access journal BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making.

IMAGE: VCM icons for current diseases and signs, risks and antecedents.

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Jean-Baptiste Lamy of the University of Paris and colleagues recognized that doctors do not always recall, nor have easy access to, detailed drug information. They can refer to drug monographs, but this can be inconvenient and time consuming in a busy medical practice. Lamy and his team reasoned that a new symbolic language for drug information could speed up the process and help avoid prescribing errors.

The VCM graphical language uses a small set of graphical signs, akin to laundry symbols or road signs, which may be combined to build simple sentences that convey information of the kind usually described in long-winded drug monographs, such as a drug’s side effects or interactions and conditions when it should not be prescribed. The resulting system, together with the doctor’s underlying medical training, can be used to help determine the appropriate prescription for the patient.

The researchers tested VCM with a group of volunteer general practitioners to assess whether the language is easy to learn and understand and whether it works in practice. Each practitioner underwent training to learn VCM and was then tested on the meanings of the icons and combinations of icons representing different aspects of a drug monograph. Results show that physicians read VCM significantly faster than an equivalent text, with fewer errors.

"VCM can be learnt in a few hours and appears to be easy to read” says Lamy. “It will considerably speed up access to drug information. The language could also be used to enrich other medical documents and for patient electronic records” Lamy adds.

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Notes to Editors:

  1. An iconic language for the graphical representation of medical concepts Jean-Baptiste Lamy, Catherine Duclos, Avner Bar-Hen, Patrick Ouvrard and Alain Venot
    BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making (in press)

    During embargo, article available here:
    http://www.biomedcentral.com/imedia/8813911501667053_article.pdf?random=67690

    After the embargo, article available at the journal website:
    http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcmedinformdecismak/

    Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central’s open access policy.

    Article citation and URL available on request at press@biomedcentral.com on the day of publication.

  2. For examples of graphical icons, please visit:
    http://www.biomedcentral.com/imedia/C1358/8813911501667053_FIG_3.JPG
    http://www.biomedcentral.com/imedia/C1547/8813911501667053_FIG_4.JPG

  3. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making is an open access journal publishing original peer-reviewed research articles in information management, systems and technology in healthcare and the study of medical decision making. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making (ISSN 1472-6947) is indexed/tracked/covered by PubMed, MEDLINE, CAS, Scopus, EMBASE, Thomson Scientific (ISI) and Google Scholar.

  4. BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/) is an independent online publishing house committed to providing immediate access without charge to the peer-reviewed biological and medical research it publishes. This commitment is based on the view that open access to research is essential to the rapid and efficient communication of science.



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