The Health Information Technology Ontology Project (HITOP) Work Group is a federal group that will make recommendations for systematically improving healthcare while reducing healthcare cost. Achievement of semantic interoperability through the use of ontology software in high priority health IT projects will both save money and improve the quality of care.
From the local level, to the Regional Health Information Organization level, to the level of states and provinces to the national and international levels, the importance of developing and/or adopting healthcare standards for electronic digital healthcare informatiion systems cannot be overestimated.
They go on to state the challenges:
The challenge is to provide interoperability between disparate standards, languages and practices as well as disparate database and operating system platforms. Adoption of universal standards for terminologies, descriptions of illnesses, and the vast array of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and equipment is improbable. Therefore, the ability to systematically map existing and developing standards to each other for the purposes of providing for practical interoperability in a necessarily heterogeneous information environment is of paramount importance.
Therefore, the purpose of HITOP is to provide for semantic interoperability in practical terms by employing Semantic Web technologies of the W3C such as the Web Ontology Language and the Resource Description Framework; and by developing mappings through such means as a Common Upper Ontology; and by validating and adopting standard mappings of the various domain ontologies and taxonomies of the healthcare informatics field.
I’m not sure exactly what will come out from the effort, but it’s worth tracking nevertheless. Most people outside of health IT believe that networks or data sharing are the real problems in communicating information between entities. However, that’s wrong: the real problem is sharing the meaning of data and using the lexicons and dictionaries. If this effort can help build an ontology that we can all agree upon, it can only be a good thing.