Towards semantic interoperability for electronic health records

Sebastian Garde, Petra Knaup, Evelyn Hovenga, Sam Heard
Methods of Information in Medicine 2007, 46 (3): 332-43

OBJECTIVES: In the field of open electronic health records (EHRs), openEHR as an archetype-based approach is being increasingly recognised. It is the objective of this paper to shortly describe this approach, and to analyse how openEHR archetypes impact on health professionals and semantic interoperability.

METHODS: Analysis of current approaches to EHR systems, terminology and standards developments. In addition to literature reviews, we organised face-to-face and additional telephone interviews and tele-conferences with members of relevant organisations and committees.

RESULTS: The openEHR archetypes approach enables syntactic interoperability and semantic interpretability -- both important prerequisites for semantic interoperability. Archetypes enable the formal definition of clinical content by clinicians. To enable comprehensive semantic interoperability, the development and maintenance of archetypes needs to be coordinated internationally and across health professions. Domain knowledge governance comprises a set of processes that enable the creation, development, organisation, sharing, dissemination, use and continuous maintenance of archetypes. It needs to be supported by information technology.

CONCLUSIONS: To enable EHRs, semantic interoperability is essential. The openEHR archetypes approach enables syntactic interoperability and semantic interpretability. However, without coordinated archetype development and maintenance, 'rank growth' of archetypes would jeopardize semantic interoperability. We therefore believe that openEHR archetypes and domain knowledge governance together create the knowledge environment required to adopt EHRs.

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