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Gaceta Sanitaria

Print version ISSN 0213-9111


ROMA-FERRI, Maria Teresa  and  PALOMAR, Manuel. Analysis of health terminologies for use as ontologies in healthcare information systems. Gac Sanit [online]. 2008, vol.22, n.5, pp.421-433. ISSN 0213-9111.

Objectives: Ontologies are a resource that allow the concept of meaning to be represented informatically, thus avoiding the limitations imposed by standardized terms. The objective of this study was to establish the extent to which terminologies could be used for the design of ontologies, which could be serve as an aid to resolve problems such as semantic interoperability and knowledge reusability in healthcare information systems. Methods: To determine the extent to which terminologies could be used as ontologies, six of the most important terminologies in clinical, epidemiologic, documentation and administrative-economic contexts were analyzed. The following characteristics were verified: conceptual coverage, hierarchical structure, conceptual granularity of the categories, conceptual relations, and the language used for conceptual representation. Results: MeSH, DeCS and UMLS ontologies were considered lightweight. The main differences among these ontologies concern conceptual specification, the types of relation and the restrictions among the associated concepts. SNOMED and GALEN ontologies have declaratory formalism, based on logical descriptions. These ontologies include explicit qualities and show greater restrictions among associated concepts and rule combinations and were consequently considered as heavyweight. Conclusions: Analysis of the declared representation of the terminologies shows the extent to which they could be reused as ontologies. Their degree of usability depends on whether the aim is for healthcare information systems to solve problems of semantic interoperability (lightweight ontologies) or to reuse the systems' knowledge as an aid to decision making (heavyweight ontologies) and for non-structured information retrieval, extraction, and classification.

Keywords : Terminology; Semantics; Medical informatics applications; Integrated advanced information management systems.

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