Formalizing the Austrian Procedure Catalogue: A 4-step methodological analysis approach

J Biomed Inform. 2016 Apr;60:1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2015.12.018. Epub 2015 Dec 30.


Objectives: Due to the lack of an internationally accepted and adopted standard for coding health interventions, Austria has established its own country-specific procedure classification system - the Austrian Procedure Catalogue (APC). Even though the APC is an elaborate coding standard for medical procedures, it has shortcomings that limit its usability. In order to enhance usability and usefulness, especially for research purposes and e-health applications, we developed an ontologized version of the APC. In this paper we present a novel four-step approach for the ontology engineering process, which enables accurate extraction of relevant concepts for medical ontologies from written text.

Methods: The proposed approach for formalizing the APC consists of the following four steps: (1) comparative pre-analysis, (2) definition analysis, (3) typological analysis, and (4) ontology implementation. The first step contained a comparison of the APC to other well-established or elaborate health intervention coding systems in order to identify strengths and weaknesses of the APC. In the second step, a list of definitions of medical terminology used in the APC was obtained. This list of definitions was used as input for Step 3, in which we identified the most important concepts to describe medical procedures using the qualitative typological analysis approach. The definition analysis as well as the typological analysis are well-known and effective methods used in social sciences, but not commonly employed in the computer science or ontology engineering domain. Finally, this list of concepts was used in Step 4 to formalize the APC.

Results: The pre-analysis highlighted the major shortcomings of the APC, such as the lack of formal definition, leading to implicitly available, but not directly accessible information (hidden data), or the poor procedural type classification. After performing the definition and subsequent typological analyses, we were able to identify the following main characteristics of health interventions: (1) Procedural type, (2) Anatomical site, (3) Medical device, (4) Pathology, (5) Access, (6) Body system, (7) Population, (8) Aim, (9) Discipline, (10) Technique, and (11) Body Function. These main characteristics were taken as input of classes for the formalization of the APC. We were also able to identify relevant relations between classes.

Conclusions: The proposed four-step approach for formalizing the APC provides a novel, systematically developed, strong framework to semantically enrich procedure classifications. Although this methodology was designed to address the particularities of the APC, the included methods are based on generic analysis tasks, and therefore can be re-used to provide a systematic representation of other procedure catalogs or classification systems and hence contribute towards a universal alignment of such representations, if desired.

Keywords: Austrian Procedure Catalogue; Definition analysis; Health procedure classification modeling; Ontologies; Typological analysis.

MeSH terms

  • Austria
  • Biological Ontologies
  • Clinical Coding*
  • Databases as Topic*
  • Humans
  • Medical Informatics Applications*
  • Terminology as Topic*