An iconic language for the Visualization of Concepts in Medicine

The VCM language

The VCM iconic language involves using icons to represent key concepts such as medical symptoms, diseases, and physiological and other patient characteristics (such as age or pregnancy), risk or history of disease, medications, monitoring, etc. The VCM language includes a set of graphical primitives (symbols, shapes, colors) and grammar to assemble these primitives icon, in the same way as road signs that are composed of several elements.

In VCM, an icon can represent the status of the patient. The color of the icon indicates the temporality of the state: red for current states, orange for risks threatening the patient in the future, and brown for the antecedents.

The general shape of the icon indicates the type of state: a circle for physiological states and a square for pathological states. A white pictogram can be added to the center of the icon to specify the anatomo-functional location of the problem or the type of patient characteristic: e.g. a heart-shaped pictogram or lung to represent heart or lung problems, or a pictogram showing a person with a cane to represent the elderly.

These three elements (color, shape and central pictogram) allow the creation of simple icons representing concepts such as "heart disease" or "elderly". Icons representing treatments and monitoring are constructed from icons representing diseases, symptoms or risks, by adding an exponent. This exponent consists of a color that distinguishes treatments, in green, and monitoring, in blue, and a pictogram which to specifies the type of treatment (medical, surgical,  for example) or monitoring (clinical, laboratory, imaging, or other).

Two different methods can be used to provide more details on the conditions. For the site of a specific anatomo-functional problem, the central symbol is replaced by a more specific symbol. For example, to represent cardiac arrhythmia, the symbol "heart" is replaced by the symbol "heartbeat". To represent graphically diseases that can occur in different anatomo-functional sites, such as infections or cancers, it is possible to add one or more modifiers to the icon. For example, to represent a bacterial infection of the heart (bacterial endocarditis), a modifier shape resembling a small bacterium is added to the left of the icon.

The most recent version of this graphical language is VCM 2.0.

The main concepts that VCM can represent are:

  • Physiological states, lifestyle habits
  • Diseases, symptoms, risks of disease
  • Clinical tests, lab tests, radiological investigations, functional tests
  • Treatments (pharmaceutical, surgical, etc.)
  • Health professionals
  • Health professional reports

VCM has been mapped to major medical terminological resources such as Mesh, ICD10, and the ATC classification. Mapping with Snomed CT is in progress. These mappings facilitate the introduction of VCM icons into medical software.

Experiment with VCM lab

Learn VCM language