Speech acts and medical records: The ontological nexus

In Jana Zvárová (ed.), Proceedings of the International Joint Meeting EuroMISE 2004 (2004)
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Despite the recent advances in information and communication technology that have increased our ability to store and circulate information, the task of ensuring that the right sorts of information gets to the right sorts of people remains. We argue that the many efforts underway to develop efficient means for sharing information across healthcare systems and organizations would benefit from a careful analysis of human action in healthcare organizations. This in turn requires that the management of information and knowledge within healthcare organizations be combined with models of resources and processes of patient care that are based on a general ontology of social interaction. The Health Level 7 (HL7) is one of several ANSI-accredited Standards Developing Organizations operating in the healthcare arena. HL7 has advanced a widely used messaging standard that enables healthcare applications to exchange clinical and administrative data in digital form. HL7 focuses on the interface requirements of the entire healthcare system and not exclusively on the requirements of one area of healthcare such as pharmacy, medical devices, imaging or insurance transactions. This has inspired the development of a powerful abstract model of patient care called the Reference Information Model (RIM). The present paper begins with an overview of the core classes of the HL7 (Version 3) RIM and a brief discussion of its “actcentered” view of healthcare. Central to this account is what is called the life cycle of events. A clinical action may progress from defined, through planned and ordered, to executed. These modalities of an action are represented as the mood of the act. We then outline the basis of an ontology of organizations, starting from the theory of speech Acts, and apply this ontology to the HL7 RIM. Special attention is given to the sorts of preconditions that must be satisfied for the successful performance of a speech act and to the sorts of entities to which speech acts give rise (e.g. obligations, claims, commitments, etc.). Finally we draw conclusions for the efficient communication and management of medical information and knowledge within and between healthcare organizations, paying special attention to the role that medical documents play in such organizations.

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Barry Smith
University at Buffalo


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