The goal of the REMINE project is to build a high performance prediction, detection and monitoring platform for managing Risks against Patient Safety (RAPS). Part of the work involves developing an ontology enabling computer-assisted RAPS decision support on the basis of the disease history of a patient as documented in a hospital information system. A requirement of the ontology is to contain a representation for what is commonly referred to by the term ‘adverse event’, one challenge being that distinct authoritative sources define this term in different and context-dependent ways. The presence of some common ground in all definitions is, however, obvious. Using the analytical principles underlying Basic Formal Ontology and Referent Tracking, both developed in the tradition of philosophical realism, we propose a formal representation of this common ground which combines a reference ontology consisting exclusively of representations of universals and an application ontology which consists representations of defined classes. We argue that what in most cases is referred to by means of the term ‘adverse event’ – when used generically – is a defined class rather than a universal. In favour of the conception of adverse events as forming a defined class are the arguments that (1) there is no definition for ‘adverse event’ that carves out a collection of particulars which constitutes the extension of a universal, and (2) the majority of definitions require adverse events to be (variably) the result of some observation, assessment or (absence of) expectation, thereby giving these entities a nominal or epistemological flavour.
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