Concatenating AMT descriptions

By | April 6, 2018

Today I saw the following enquiry:

“Unfortunately, the software on our automated dispensing cabinets can only accept values up to 15 characters long…”

This is unfortunate, because of the almost 6000 MPUUs in AMT, only 10 are 15 characters or less. And it isn’t the first time the length of AMT (or any terminology) description has come under scrutiny. But it’s an unavoidable reality. There’s a lot of important details that need to be described in medication names:

  • ingredient(s)
  • strength
  • form

Which is why the average length of an MPUU is 53 characters. Some can be much longer, but 90% are less than 90 characters. Squeezing this into 15 characters is not trivial. Just looking at the ingredients – almost half of the 2300 substances in AMT are over 15 characters!

“will there be issues truncating the MPUU terms for interface purposes”

Truncating to 15 characters would produce 900 non-unique descriptions, affecting 65% of the concepts! There’s a range of clinical consequences: missing or corrupted dose forms, strengths, and ingredients.

For example:
“amoxicillin 125” could mean either:

  • amoxicillin 125 mg/5 mL powder for oral liquid
  • amoxicillin 125 mg/5 mL + clavulanic acid 31.25 mg/5 mL powder for oral liquid

“hydrocortisone” could be any one of 26 different products!

  • hydrocortisone 4 mg tablet
  • hydrocortisone acetate 1% eye ointment
  • hydrocortisone (as sodium succinate) 100 mg injection, vial
  • hydrocortisone 1% spray

The reality though is that some interfaces (even printed labels) do have limited capacity.
The only way to produce shorter terms involves a combination of abbreviations and assumptions. As mentioned above, this is a non-trivial endeavour.

This problem isn’t unique to AMT, I’ve seen similar queries for pathology and other clinical applications. But should the national terminology have ‘short descriptions’? Until there is an industry agreed ‘minimum length capability’ there’s still a risk it’s too long. And any abbreviations or assumptions made, need to be well understood by the target users.

But truncating descriptions…

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