Tutorial on Standards and Ontology
Barry Smith and Werner Ceusters
Keywords: Standards, ontology, terminology, ISO, HL7, SNOMED, OBO, NCI Thesaurus
Smith is Director of the Institute for Formal Ontology and Medical
Information Science (IFOMIS) in
Smith’s research focus is ontology and its applications in biomedicine and biomedical informatics. He is currently also working on a variety of projects relating to terminologies and standardisation.
Ontology Research Group,
Ceusters studied medicine (1977-84), neuropsychiatry (1984-90),
informatics (1988-90) and knowledge engineering (1991-93). He started a
series of international research projects in medical natural language
processing under the Third, Fourth and Fifth Research Frameworks of the
European Commission through his R&D company Office Line Engineering
nv. Since then, he has also been active in standardisation bodies related
to medical terminology such as CEN/TC251/WG2 and ISO/TC215/WG3. In April
1998, he started a new company – Language & Computing nv (L&C) –
to exploit the results of his research. He left L&C in 2004, his main
interest being now applying and testing a new theoretically-grounded
approach to ontological engineering. As of February 2006 he leads the
Referent Tracking Unit of the Ontology Research Group in the New York
State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences. He is also
Coordinator of Bioinformatics in the University at Buffalo Health Science
Faculties, and Professor of Psychiatry in the
As biomedical research, medical care and medical record-keeping become ever more sophisticated in their use of computers, so the standardisation of biomedical data and information becomes an ever more pressing need. Standardisation can not only help to reduce costs and promote safety in medical care, it can also provide the basis for new types of virtual biomedical research by enabling uniform data to be used for purposes of scientific reasoning in ways which transcend the confines of single institutions. To this end, however, standards must be developed which ensure not merely syntactic regimentation but also what is often called ‘semantic interoperability’.
Standards and ontologies are two distinct kinds of socio-cognitive artefacts which serve the needs of syntactic and semantic regimentation in different ways. They also confront similar difficulties in development and application, difficulties which are not only theoretical and technical, but also sociological. Standards and ontologies, if they are to be effective, must be widely used, and this means that they must be documented in ways which are clear and understandable to the relevant target audiences. Yet theoretical reflection on standards, on the conditions which must be satisfied by good standards, and on the relations between standards and ontologies, are still almost unknown.
present tutorial is designed to fill this gap. It will serve as an
introduction to the much-needed theoretical reflection on standards and
ontologies as applied in the domains of health care and biomedical
research. We shall examinin the work of three
representative organisations influential in the realm of standardisation
and ontology development in the domain of the life sciences: Health Level
7 Inc., the
Barry Smith, Werner Ceusters and Rita Temmerman, Wüsteria, MIE 2005 (Studies in Health and Technology Informatics, 116), 647–652.
Gunnar O. Klein and Barry Smith, Concept Systems and ontologies: Recommendations based on discussions between realist philosophers and ISO/CEN experts concerning the standards addressing “concepts” and related terms.
Ceusters W, Smith B. Strategies for Referent Tracking in Electronic Health Records. Journal of Biomedical Informatics. In press.
1. Standards and Ontology: An Introduction (BS and WC)
2. HL7 (BS)
a. Problems with HL7 V2
b. The Vision of HL7 V3
c. The RIM and Its Problems
Attendees who might find this tutorial worthwhile include: developers and users of standards, developers and users of electronic health record systems, physicians and others interested in the possibilities of modern healthcare informatics systems and in the role of ontologies in biomedicine.
All participants will receive from their attendance in the tutorial familiarity with a variety of approaches to healthcare standardisation and a thorough overview of problems in existing standards and of prospects for improvement in the future. This tutorial does not require any prior detailed knowledge of standards and of the processes through which they are established, modified and applied, though some familiarity with these topics will make it easier to understand the deeper issues involved. Basic familiarity with medical informatics is required.