Knowledge Management in Public Health - Experiences Using an Ontology Based Approach

An ICBO informal meeting


Abstract Public Health practice is an interdisciplinary area being at the crossroads of many professions each using their own worldview, i.e., their personal, context to deal with reality. This results in different idioms, and arbitrary, chaotic usage of professional terminology. Ontology based terminology management provides a foundational component of a sound base to solve this semantic interoperability issue. Public Health institutes and research often build and use ad hoc taxonomies without understanding the ontological nature of their work and neglecting promising, already existing resources. The meeting will focus on this issue by showing some results achieved in CDC and ECDC. Participants will be representative of various public health bodies, EU agencies and research organizations in this domain.
The informal meeting will start with three examples of ontology based applications in public health focusing on the process of choosing relevant standards, methods and the lessons learned from implementation, deployment and running the systems. The first example will be the development process of an ontology based terminology service at the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control. Lessons learned and current experiences with the system in production will be demonstrated with a live access to a test version on line. The Terminology Service in production is a .Net / MS SQL application storing SKOS format value sets and an upper ontology. The TS has a human user interface to browse / edit the value sets and a machine user interface with a flexible, SOAP based interface answering queries of client applications. The second example will be the US Centers for Disease Control sponsored HL7 Meaningful Use Electronic Laboratory Reporting Nationally Notifiable Disease Ontology. The structure of the HL7 ORU lab reporting message in OWL and the binding of standards based terminologies (SNOMED and LOINC) will be demonstrated along with how these message based ontologies may be implemented to aid in automated laboratory disease reporting to public health authorities. A third example will be the use of ontology for message validation and decision support in the US CDC National Tuberculosis surveillance system.

Requirements The target audience is public health information system planners, designers and methodology people who are interested in knowledge navigation, semantic interoperability among systems. The required background is thorough knowledge of the subject domain of public health and familiarity with basic knowledge representation methods and standard health (medicine) related classifications and nomenclatures. Participants will be asked to add their experiences and asked to suggest good practices. Issues as using existing for reusable public health ontologies will be discussed, as well as relevant standards and reference sources. The organizers expect to sum up the informal meeting with a position paper on ontologies in public health.


Please contact the proposers for further information:

László Balkányi Md PhD
email: laszlo.balkanyi [at]

Laszlo Balkanyi, MD. PhD is currently the knowledge manager of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). He has medical background, starting his carrier in internal medicine. His interests then turned to research and teaching in medical knowledge representation. He completed his Ph.D. under the supervision of professor Ab Bakker, in Leiden. He was chair of the Hungarian Medical Informatics Association (MEIT). Besides teaching as senior lecturer and later chair of Medical Informatics Department at the (since than abrogated) Haynal Imre University, he has done consulting for international organizations such as the World Bank, WHO and various EU bodies. Most of these projects were about national level health information system design and implementation. He was also active in the field of health informatics standardization, in CEN TC 251. He is member of IMIA Medical Concept Representation Working Group.

Cecil O. Lynch, MD, MS
email: cecil.o.lynch [at]

Cecil Lynch, MD, MS is a Senior Manager in Accenture's Global Health Services Group with extensive domain expertise in both medical practice and Health IT. He has served in leadership roles within the HL7 Standards Development Organization including as a co-Chair of the Vocabulary Technical Committee and currently as a member of the Architectural Review Board. He is a thought leader and international advisor on Health Informatics and has served in advisory roles to the US Centers for Disease Control, the National Cancer Institute, Health and Human Services, and the European Commission Centre's for Disease Control. Prior to joining Accenture, Dr. Lynch was the CEO of OntoReason, LLC and the Chief Semantic Architect of the National Cancer Institute, and prior to that, the Chair of the UC Davis Health Informatics Graduate Group and Chief of the Office of Informatics and Surveillance for the State of California Department of Public Health. In addition to his formal training in Health IT, Dr. Lynch is a UCLA trained OB/GYN with more than 14 years in outpatient and inpatient clinical practice in Gynecological Oncology, High risk obstetrics and uro-gynecological surgery and pelvic reconstruction.

Local Organizers

Stefan Schulz
Catalina Martínez
Markus Kreuzthaler

Institute for Medical
Informatics, Statistics
and Documentation

Medical University of Graz

Auenbruggerplatz 2
8036 Graz, Austria

stefan.schulz [at]


Feb 1: ICBO and FOIS workshops and tutorials announced

FOIS deadline extended to Feb 12, 2012 (strict)

Jan 25: ICBO workshops and tutorials online

Jan 6: FOIS call for posters open.

Dec 8: Keynote Speakers Announced.

Maintainer: Stefan Schulz