Semantic Web eyed to link health care information

The Semantic Web is being leveraged as a mechanism for improved health care.

The World Wide Web Consortium on Tuesday announced formation of the Semantic Web for Health Care and Life Sciences Interest Group, which is to deploy standardized Semantic Web specifications to provide services defined by the user community. Looking to overcome obstacles to data sharing in the life science research and health services communities, W3C seeks a framework supporting semantically rich system, process, and information interoperability.

According to W3C, embedding of semantics into medical and research information will offer better access to information needed to find cures for diseases, make drugs safer and more affordable, and enable health care providers to offer individualized clinical management.

The interest group will develop use cases that demonstrate the value of adopting Semantic Web technology, core vocabularies and ontologies, guidelines, and best practices, W3C said. Also, the group will work with other Semantic Web-related groups on plans for future development.

Best practices are expected from the group within a year. The interest group will be chaired by Tonya Hongsermeier, who is affiliated with Partners HealthCare, and Eric Neumann, who is described by W3C as unaffiliated.

The Semantic Web is a concept that involves incorporating descriptions into data on the Web to make the data reusable and enable applications to be built that can take advantage of this describable collection of data, according to W3C spokesperson Janet Daly. It features a common framework for data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries, W3C said.

"The initial layers of the Semantic Web stack are complete, and we're looking at the ways that those standards can apply to a very specific discipline," Daly said.

Those layers include XML as a syntax layer; next, a Resource Description Framework (RDF) to provide machine-readable descriptions of data that can be parsed; and a third layer, OWL (Web Ontology Language), to combine ontologies, or descriptions of specialized knowledge on the Web.

There may be other Semantic Web-related groups formed by W3C pertaining to other industries, Daly said. "It's possible to imagine seeing it in other industries, but this is really our first test."

Earlier this month, as part of its Semantic Web effort, W3C formed the Rule Interchange Format (RIF) Working Group, which is chartered to produce a language for the exchange of rules and their transfer between rules systems. Rules are being defined as executable pieces of declarative knowledge that are important in managing complex and dynamic operations.