It is generally acknowledged by the scientific community that ontologies might make a significant contribution to the design and implementation better and more interoperable information systems, also in medicine. However, outside the academic world there is still much skepticism about the real impact that ontologies may have on the design and maintenance of working information systems.
The aim of this book is both to review fundamental theoretical issues on ontologies and to demonstrate the effectiveness of the ontological approach by illustrating real case studies.
The first paper (by Pisanelli and Gangemi) show the usefulness of an ontological approach for solving some problems arising in medicine. It points out the relevance of terminological ontologies for disambiguating polysemous terms, for re-organizing very large corpora and detecting possible inconsistencies and for managing a catalog of biomedical equipment. It also emphasizes the fundamental role played by ontologies when integration and interoperability of heterogeneous knowledge sources is needed, in particular in the field of clinical guidelines and evidence-based medicine.
The next couple of papers (by Smith and colleagues) are a clear and relevant contribution to the topic of formal ontology in medicine: The paper by Gangemi and coworkers introduces the application of the “descriptions and situations” theory in biomedicine.
The following two papers (by Kumar, Smith et al.) emphasize the important role of ontologies in modelling clinical guidelines: a crucial issue in health-care management today. Two other interesting applications are presented in the following: one by Martucci, Masseroli and Pinciroli in the field of genomics and the other by Burgun and colleagues in the organ transplantation domain.
Last but not least, Ceusters and co-workers show where mistakes in medical ontologies come from and how they can be detected.
This volume collects the research presented at a workshop that was held in Rome in October 2003. The workshop was jointly organized by the Laboratory of Applied Ontology of the Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology of the Italian National Research Council (www.loa-cnr.it) and by the Institute for Formal Ontology and Medical Information Science (ifomis.de ). The high quality of the papers presented and the liveliness of the discussions that followed made the event a successful meeting.
My only regret is that my great friend Riccardo Maceratini – a surgeon who was enthusiastic about the progress of medical informatics – could not attend it. He passed away too soon, and I am sure I am not the only one who would have enjoyed his presence at this workshop.
Domenico M. Pisanelli
Laboratory of Applied Ontology, CNR-ISTC, Viale Marx 15, 00137 Rome, Italy