Strategies for Referent Tracking in Electronic Health Records

Journal of Biomedical Informatics 39 (3):362-378 (2006)
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The goal of referent tracking is to create an ever-growing pool of data relating to the entities existing in concrete spatiotemporal reality. In the context of Electronic Healthcare Records (EHRs) the relevant concrete entities are not only particular patients but also their parts, diseases, therapies, lesions, and so forth, insofar as these are salient to diagnosis and treatment. Within a referent tracking system, all such entities are referred to directly and explicitly, something which cannot be achieved when familiar concept-based systems are used in what is called “clinical coding”. In this paper we describe the components of a referent tracking system in an informal way and we outline the procedures that would have to be followed by healthcare personnel in using such a system. We argue that the referent tracking paradigm can be introduced with only minor – though nevertheless ontologically important – technical changes to existing EHR infrastructures, but that it will require a radically different mindset on the part of those involved in clinical coding and terminology development from that which has prevailed hitherto.



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Barry Smith
University at Buffalo