Using Unified Modelling Language (UML) as a process-modelling technique for clinical-research process improvement

Med Inform Internet Med. 2007 Mar;32(1):51-64. doi: 10.1080/14639230601097705.


The Primary Care Data Quality programme (PCDQ) is a quality-improvement programme which processes routinely collected general practice computer data. Patient data collected from a wide range of different brands of clinical computer systems are aggregated, processed, and fed back to practices in an educational context to improve the quality of care. Process modelling is a well-established approach used to gain understanding and systematic appraisal, and identify areas of improvement of a business process. Unified modelling language (UML) is a general purpose modelling technique used for this purpose. We used UML to appraise the PCDQ process to see if the efficiency and predictability of the process could be improved. Activity analysis and thinking-aloud sessions were used to collect data to generate UML diagrams. The UML model highlighted the sequential nature of the current process as a barrier for efficiency gains. It also identified the uneven distribution of process controls, lack of symmetric communication channels, critical dependencies among processing stages, and failure to implement all the lessons learned in the piloting phase. It also suggested that improved structured reporting at each stage - especially from the pilot phase, parallel processing of data and correctly positioned process controls - should improve the efficiency and predictability of research projects. Process modelling provided a rational basis for the critical appraisal of a clinical data processing system; its potential maybe underutilized within health care.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / organization & administration*
  • Medical Informatics*
  • Unified Medical Language System / organization & administration*
  • United Kingdom