Semantic interoperability of health information
Interoperability is a property referring to the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together (inter-operate).
The IEEE defines interoperability as the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged.
Two types of interoperability can be defined.
If two or more systems are capable of communicating and exchanging data, they are exhibiting syntactic interoperability. Specified data formats, communication protocols and the like are fundamental. In general, XML or SQL standards provide syntactic interoperability. Syntactical interoperability is required for any attempts of further interoperability.
Beyond the ability of two or more computer systems to exchange information, semantic interoperability is the ability to automatically interpret the information exchanged meaningfully and accurately in order to produce useful results as defined by the end users of both systems. To achieve semantic interoperability, both sides must defer to a common information exchange reference model. The content of the information exchange requests are unambiguously defined: what is sent is the same as what is understood.
In the field of health information, to achieve semantic interoperability is even a more important and difficult duty. The complexity of the health domain, its frequent variation and evolution and the differences between the information technologies domain and the health domain need a deep change on the methodologies of information management.
New proposals have arisen during the last decade to solve the problem of semantic interoperability of health information. Among them, the dual model approach is the most promising approach.
Having not only an information reference model but also a concept model that permits to build complex domain concepts eases the transition from just data structures to semantically interoperable knowledge.