Referent Tracking: The Problem of Negative Findings

Studies in Health Technology and Informatics 124:741-46 (2006)
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The paradigm of referent tracking is based on a realist presupposition which rejects so-called negative entities (congenital absent nipple, and the like) as spurious. How, then, can a referent tracking-based Electronic Health Record deal with what are standardly called ‘negative findings’? To answer this question we carried out an analysis of some 748 sentences drawn from patient charts and containing some form of negation. Our analysis shows that to deal with these sentences we need to introduce a new ontological relationship between a particular and a universal, which holds when no instance of the universal has a specific qualified ontological relation with the particular. This relation is found to be able to accommodate nearly all occurrences of negative findings in the examined sample, in ways which involve no reference to negative entities.

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Barry Smith
University at Buffalo


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