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Sung Watkins
Sung Watkins

Learn More about NDF-RT: The Federal Medication Terminology

NDF-RT Download: What Is It and How to Use It?

If you are looking for a comprehensive and standardized terminology for medications, you might want to check out the National Drug File Reference Terminology (NDF-RT). In this article, we will explain what NDF-RT is, why it is important, how to download it, and how to use it for various purposes.

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NDF-RT is a concept-oriented terminology that represents the meanings and relationships of drugs and drug-related information. It is an extension of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) National Drug File (NDF), which is a drug formulary used by the VHA. NDF-RT organizes the drug list into a formal representation that can be used by computers and applications. NDF-RT covers various aspects of drug characteristics, such as ingredients, chemical structure, dose form, physiologic effect, mechanism of action, pharmacokinetics, and related diseases.

Using NDF-RT has many benefits for both healthcare professionals and patients. Some of these benefits are:

  • It reduces ambiguity and improves accuracy when describing medical situations involving drugs.

  • It improves human productivity and efficiency when searching, browsing, or retrieving drug information.

  • It improves the performance of decision support applications that rely on drug data, such as alerts, reminders, guidelines, or order entry systems.

  • It improves compliance with existing or emerging standards and regulations related to drug terminology.

  • It enables the exchange of healthcare information between different departments, facilities, applications, or systems that use different drug vocabularies.

  • It enhances the management and analysis of electronic medical records that contain drug data.

  • It improves the display and presentation of patient information that involves drugs.

However, NDF-RT is not the only terminology for medications available. There are some alternatives that you might want to consider, depending on your needs and preferences. Some of these alternatives are:

  • RxNorm: A standardized medication terminology published by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) that provides normalized names and codes for medications and their components. RxNorm also links to other drug vocabularies, such as NDF, SNOMED CT, MeSH, or UMLS.

  • MED-RT: The evolutionary successor to NDF-RT that is also published by the VHA. MED-RT preserves most of the pharmacologic classification relationships of NDF-RT but replaces the NDF formulary with RxNorm as a richer source of prescribable medications. MED-RT also references other standardized terminologies, such as MeSH or SNOMED CT.

  • SNOMED CT: A comprehensive clinical terminology that covers various domains of healthcare, including drugs. SNOMED CT provides hierarchies and definitions for products, substances, ingredients, dose forms, routes of administration, units of presentation, or units of measurement.

How to Download NDF -RT

If you want to download NDF-RT, you have several options to choose from. NDF-RT is available in different sources and formats, depending on your needs and preferences. Here are some of the most common ways to access and download NDF-RT:

  • NLM Download: The NLM provides a download page for NDF-RT, where you can get the latest version of NDF-RT in XML or RRF (Rich Release Format) formats. You can also download previous versions of NDF-RT or view the release notes and documentation.

  • UMLS Download: The UMLS (Unified Medical Language System) is a collection of biomedical terminologies, including NDF-RT, that are integrated and mapped to each other. You can download the UMLS Metathesaurus, which contains NDF-RT, in RRF format from the UMLS Terminology Services website. You need to register and agree to the license terms before downloading.

  • API Access: The NLM also provides an API (Application Programming Interface) for accessing NDF-RT data programmatically. The API allows you to query and retrieve NDF-RT concepts and relationships using RESTful web services. You can use the API Explorer to test and generate queries or view the API documentation for more details.

  • Web Browser: You can also use a web browser to access and view NDF-RT data online. There are several websites that offer web-based interfaces for browsing and searching NDF-RT concepts and relationships. Some of these websites are:

  • NDF-RT Browser: A simple and user-friendly website that allows you to search for NDF-RT concepts by name, code, or class. You can also view the concept details, such as synonyms, definitions, properties, or relationships.

  • RxNav: A web application that provides access to multiple drug terminologies, including NDF-RT, RxNorm, MED-RT, SNOMED CT, and others. You can search for drugs by name, code, class, or ingredient. You can also view the drug details, such as synonyms, dose forms, routes, or interactions.

  • NDF-RT Visualizer: A web application that provides a graphical representation of NDF-RT concepts and relationships. You can search for concepts by name or code and view their hierarchy, attributes, or associations. You can also export the graph as an image or a PDF file.

How to Use NDF-RT

Once you have downloaded or accessed NDF-RT data, you might wonder how to use it for your purposes. There are many ways to use NDF-RT data, depending on your goals and preferences. Here are some of the most common use cases for NDF-RT:

  • Search and Browse: You can use NDF-RT data to search and browse for drug information that is relevant to your needs. For example, you can use NDF-RT data to find out what drugs belong to a certain pharmacologic class, what drugs have a certain mechanism of action, what drugs treat a certain disease, or what drugs interact with each other.

  • Pharmacologic Classification and Decision Support: You can use NDF-RT data to classify drugs according to their pharmacologic properties and effects. This can help you to understand how drugs work and how they affect the body. You can also use NDF-RT data to support clinical decisions involving drugs, such as prescribing, dispensing, administering, monitoring, or educating.

  • Data Interoperability and Exchange: You can use NDF-RT data to enable the exchange of drug information between different systems or applications that use different drug vocabularies. For example, you can use NDF-RT data to map drugs from one terminology to another, such as from RxNorm to SNOMED CT or vice versa. You can also use NDF-RT data to standardize and harmonize drug data across different sources or formats.


In this article, we have introduced you to NDF-RT, a concept-oriented terminology for medications that is published by the VHA. We have explained what NDF-RT is, why it is important, how to download it, and how to use it for various purposes. We hope that this article has helped you to understand and appreciate the value of NDF-RT as a resource for drug information.

If you want to learn more about NDF-RT or other related topics, here are some tips and resources that you might find useful:

  • Read the official documentation and publications of NDF-RT, which provide more details and examples of NDF-RT concepts, relationships, and applications.

  • Explore the online tools and websites that offer access to NDF-RT data, such as the NLM Download, the UMLS Download, the API Access, the NDF-RT Browser, the RxNav, or the NDF-RT Visualizer.

  • Join the online communities and forums that discuss NDF-RT or other drug terminologies, such as the NDF-RT Listserv, the RxNorm Listserv, or the UMLS Users Forum.

  • Contact the NDF-RT team or the NLM Customer Service if you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions about NDF-RT or its related services.

We would love to hear from you and learn about your experience with NDF-RT. Please feel free to leave a comment below or contact us directly. Thank you for reading!


Here are some of the frequently asked questions about NDF-RT that you might find helpful:

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  • What is the difference between NDF-RT and RxNorm?

NDF-RT and RxNorm are both standardized terminologies for medications, but they have different scopes and purposes. NDF-RT focuses on the pharmacologic aspects of drugs, such as their ingredients, effects, mechanisms, or indications. RxNorm focuses on the prescribable aspects of drugs, such as their names, codes, dose forms, or routes. NDF-RT and RxNorm are complementary and can be used together to provide a complete picture of drug information.

  • How often is NDF-RT updated and how to get the latest version?

NDF-RT is updated quarterly by the VHA and published by the NLM. The latest version of NDF-RT is usually available within a few weeks


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