Background: Diverse users need to search health and medical literature to satisfy open-ended goals such as making evidence-based decisions and updating their knowledge. However, doing so is challenging due to at least two major difficulties: (1) articulating information needs using accurate vocabulary and (2) dealing with large document sets returned from searches. Common search interfaces such as PubMed do not provide adequate support for exploratory search tasks.
Objective: Our objective was to improve support for exploratory search tasks by combining two strategies in the design of an interactive visual interface by (1) using a formal ontology to help users build domain-specific knowledge and vocabulary and (2) providing multi-stage triaging support to help mitigate the information overload problem.
Methods: We developed a Web-based tool, Ontology-Driven Visual Search and Triage Interface for MEDLINE (OVERT-MED), to test our design ideas. We implemented a custom searchable index of MEDLINE, which comprises approximately 25 million document citations. We chose a popular biomedical ontology, the Human Phenotype Ontology (HPO), to test our solution to the vocabulary problem. We implemented multistage triaging support in OVERT-MED, with the aid of interactive visualization techniques, to help users deal with large document sets returned from searches.
Results: Formative evaluation suggests that the design features in OVERT-MED are helpful in addressing the two major difficulties described above. Using a formal ontology seems to help users articulate their information needs with more accurate vocabulary. In addition, multistage triaging combined with interactive visualizations shows promise in mitigating the information overload problem.
Conclusions: Our strategies appear to be valuable in addressing the two major problems in exploratory search. Although we tested OVERT-MED with a particular ontology and document collection, we anticipate that our strategies can be transferred successfully to other contexts.
MEDLINE; user-computer interface; information storage and retrieval; medical informatics; PubMed
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