SDP Vocabulary Service FAQs


The SDP Vocabulary Service provides a repository of questions, response sets, and groupings of questions (called sections), and provides visibility into which programs and surveillance systems are using this content. Users can search for existing content that meets their own data collection needs. This enhances consistency by reducing the number of different ways that CDC asks for similar information, lowers reporting burden on partners, and allows users to spend more time in data analysis. When needed, users are also able to author their own content, either from scratch, or using existing content as a starting point.

Standardizing data collection improves quality and saves time. Designed to ultimately reduce the burden of data collection on states, CDC’s Surveillance Data Platform Program improves the overall efficiency of gathering, reporting, and using public health data. Standardizing data collection—using shared data collection instruments—is one way to create efficiency in public health surveillance. Another is through harmonization—reusing existing questions in future data collection.

SDP Vocabulary Service Value

Reuse. Enables use and reuse of harmonized questions and response sets.

Transparency. Provides transparency across published content from multiple programs.

Speed. Allows public health professionals to more rapidly discover, create, and deploy data collection instruments.

Integration. Allows for integration of questions and response sets with other tools through Application Programming Interface (API).

Anyone can view, search, and export published vocabulary by using a web browser by visiting: If you would like access to the full suite of features available in the Vocabulary Service (e.g., create, import, curate, revise, publish etc.), please ask questions so that the onboarding process can be started. To learn more about how to use the SDP Vocabulary Service, see the Vocabulary Service User’s Guide pdf icon[PDF – 8 MB].

  • Anyone with internet access can search, view and export published content (response sets, questions, sections, or surveys).
  • CDC programs can access the full suite of features in the SDP Vocabulary Service to support their mission workflow needs (import, author, curate, revise, publish, etc.). Please ask questions so that you can be granted the proper role-based permissions in the system.
  • Public health partners who are interested in collaborating with CDC programs on the development of vocabulary within the SDP Vocabulary Service should talk to their CDC program partners to determine the appropriate role for you. If you are unsure, the SDP Program can help CDC programs and partners determine the best role. Your CDC program partner should ask questions to identify your appropriate role and collaborative authoring group membership

The SDP Program will work with you to determine the best role (e.g., Collaborator, Author, Publisher) in the service that fits your needs and supports your work. You will receive the appropriate role-based permissions in the system and be asked to validate your account. The SDP Program will also determine if any collaborative authoring groups should be setup.

CDC programs add vocabulary from surveys, questionnaires, data dictionaries, and other data collection instruments that support public health programs, surveillance, and research. Surveys, questionnaires, and other data collection instruments related to training, staff development, human resources, customer satisfaction, and other related topics are considered out of scope for this repository.

The SDP Vocabulary Service allows users to capitalize on previous work through transparently sharing questions and response sets already in use by the CDC and showing which programs and surveillance systems use them. This speeds up the creation process and reduces variability. To address special data collection needs, authors can extend existing content or create new content. This is a first step on an ongoing journey toward data harmonization and standardization.

Content with public visibility indicates that a program is ready to share content with a broad public health audience to promote reuse, transparency, harmonization, and standardization but may not be authoritative. Users interested in using publicly available content are encouraged to reach out to the appropriate program or system with any questions about the content and should consider the indicated content maturity stage (e.g., trial use, comment only, published) as part of their decision to use it.

Users can associate a question with a data element through the code systems mapping table – over time, data collection can be simplified by reducing the number of ways data is being collecting. The SDP Vocabulary Service provides transparency into the different ways that similar information is being collected to help identify harmonization opportunities. The curation wizard also suggests similar questions or response sets for use on an author’s survey to promote reuse and harmonization with existing ways of collecting information.

A process whereby an organization reviews separate but similar data and attempts to align the data elements in a way that can be combined and used for comparison or stratification.

Anyone who has been granted the author or publisher role in the SDP Vocabulary Service can create new content in the service to support their public health data collection needs. If you have not been onboarded to the SDP Vocabulary Service or are unsure of your role, please ask questions. We will gladly assist.

Users should always try to reuse existing questions and response sets whenever possible to further the goal of harmonization in public health. It is the role of publishers to assist with promoting reuse over creation by asking authors to provide a justification in these situations. Novel and emerging situations, as well unique study design, necessitate flexibility for users to be able to create new questions. In most situations, users will be able to balance question and response set reuse and creation on a new survey to meet both program and harmonization goals.


Typically a natural language expression used to solicit a value for a data variable like, “What is your age?”. In some cases, such as for defining vocabulary for electronic information exchange, like Nationally Notifiable Disease Surveillance Message Mapping Guides, the data element name (“Subject’s Sex”) may be stored in this field instead of a natural language expression.

A set of response choices that are applicable answers to one or more “Choice” or “Open Choice” type questions.

A grouping of questions related to a topic (e.g., demographic, clinical, laboratory, epidemiological) and intended to appear together as part of a data collection instrument. A section may also contain one or more sections (e.g., sub-sections or nested sections.) For instance, “Symptom” and “Diagnosis” sections within a “Clinical” section.

A Survey defines the vocabulary (e.g., questions and response sets) used for a particular data collection or information exchange. A Survey in the SDP Vocabulary Service contains one or more Sections that are consolidated and intended for a data collection instrument or information exchange.

Capabilities and Features

It depends on the length and complexity of your data collection instrument. It takes time to transform existing public health data collection instruments into the SDP Vocabulary Service import template. The SDP Program can help you determine the most efficient way to get your program’s content into the service.

There are two import formats available to users:

  • Message Mapping Guide (MMG) template for content from the Nationally Notifiable Disease Program
  • Generic the vocabulary service spreadsheet template for existing data dictionaries, surveys, and other various formats.

Please email to request the latest template.

No, the SDP Vocabulary Service is a repository of response sets, questions, sections, and surveys used by public health. The surveys created in the SDP Vocabulary Service define the response sets, questions, and sections that should be used for a data collection. The content on the SDP Vocabulary Service surveys can be exported to survey tools, like Epi Info or REDCap, to be finalized for deployment. The export formats retain content organization created in the SDP Vocabulary Service (e.g., question grouping into sections, response sets associated with questions).

  • REDCap Project XML
  • Epi Info Desktop Form XML
  • Spreadsheet (xlsx)
  • PDF

Users can search for questions and other content from the SDP Vocabulary Service dashboard by keyword, phrase, exact match, or use of advanced search filters.

Extending in the SDP Vocabulary Service means creating a copy of existing content to be used as a starting point for an author’s own needs. Extending content creates a copy that includes a link to the content it was extended from for traceability.

If a user would like to reuse a question, but the response set(s) associated with the question by the original author do not meet the needs of that user (aka “author recommended response sets”), users can select other Response Sets from the repository to associate with the question while creating, editing, or revising a Section. This allows other SDP Vocabulary Service users to reuse questions in the repository, while providing the flexibility to select a context appropriate Response Set on a given section.

The Curation Wizard feature detects similar questions and/or response sets from the user’s survey in the SDP Vocabulary Service repository. The Curation Wizard promotes harmonization in data collection by identifying similar questions and response sets and suggesting them to the author of the surveys to consider for reuse. The author may decide to replace one or more questions and/or response sets on their survey with the suggested content if it is found to meet the author’s data collection needs.

The Curation Wizard feature is available on surveys that you own in the SDP Vocabulary Service. While viewing the survey of interest, click the “Curate” button.

APIs and System Integration

The SDP Vocabulary Service APIs allow for integration of questions and response sets with other tools. The SDP Vocabulary Service provides a Swagger API and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) compliant API.

The SDP Vocabulary Service currently integrates with the authoritative source for standard vocabularies for CDC and its public health partners, called Public Health Information Network Vocabulary Access and Distribution System (PHIN VADS).

Related Tools and Services

The SDP Vocabulary Service provides a repository of response sets, questions, sections, and surveys used so that CDC programs and partners can discover how others are collecting information. The service promotes reuse of vocabulary, where practical. The service helps authors create more standardized and harmonized data collection instruments which improves quality and saves time. Unlike commonly used survey tools, the SDP Vocabulary Service does not collect any data. The surveys created in the SDP Vocabulary Service identify the questions and response sets that are used for a data collection; the surveys can be exported to survey tools to finalize for deployment by adding formatting, logic, and directions.

The SDP Vocabulary Service provides a repository of response sets, questions, sections, and surveys used by public health and allows users to create, reuse, and export their vocabulary to common data collection tools like Epi Info and REDCap.

PHIN VADS is the authoritative source for standard vocabularies for CDC and its public health partners, providing standard vocabularies, like code systems, value sets, and concepts. The SDP Vocabulary Service updates its Response Set repository weekly with new PHIN VADS value sets to promote the use of those standards and to allow users to easily include the latest standards from PHIN VADS in their data collection instruments.

The SDP Vocabulary Service provides a repository of response sets, questions, sections, and surveys used by public health. A terminology service is a service that lets healthcare applications make use of codes and value sets without having to become experts in the details of code system, value set and concept map resources, and the underlying code systems and terminological principles. The SDP Vocabulary Service allows users to associate standard codes with surveys, sections, questions, and response sets but does not provide mapping resources.

Page last reviewed: November 22, 2019