Objective: Biomedical research increasingly relies on the integration of information from multiple heterogeneous data sources. Despite the fact that structural and terminological aspects of interoperability are interdependent and rely on a common set of requirements, current efforts typically address them in isolation. We propose a unified ontology-based knowledge framework to facilitate interoperability between heterogeneous sources, and investigate if using the LexEVS terminology server is a viable implementation method.
Materials and methods: We developed a framework based on an ontology, the general information model (GIM), to unify structural models and terminologies, together with relevant mapping sets. This allowed a uniform access to these resources within LexEVS to facilitate interoperability by various components and data sources from implementing architectures.
Results: Our unified framework has been tested in the context of the EU Framework Program 7 TRANSFoRm project, where it was used to achieve data integration in a retrospective diabetes cohort study. The GIM was successfully instantiated in TRANSFoRm as the clinical data integration model, and necessary mappings were created to support effective information retrieval for software tools in the project.
Conclusions: We present a novel, unifying approach to address interoperability challenges in heterogeneous data sources, by representing structural and semantic models in one framework. Systems using this architecture can rely solely on the GIM that abstracts over both the structure and coding. Information models, terminologies and mappings are all stored in LexEVS and can be accessed in a uniform manner (implementing the HL7 CTS2 service functional model). The system is flexible and should reduce the effort needed from data sources personnel for implementing and managing the integration.
Keywords: Interoperability; LexEVS; Ontology; Semantics; Terminology; Translational Medical Research.