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BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2006 Apr 5;6:20.

Evaluation of PROforma as a language for implementing medical guidelines in a practical context.

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Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK.



PROforma is one of several languages that allow clinical guidelines to be expressed in a computer-interpretable manner. How these languages should be compared, and what requirements they should meet, are questions that are being actively addressed by a community of interested researchers.


We have developed a system to allow hypertensive patients to be monitored and assessed without visiting their GPs (except in the most urgent cases). Blood pressure measurements are performed at the patients' pharmacies and a web-based system, created using PROforma, makes recommendations for continued monitoring, and/or changes in medication. The recommendations and measurements are transmitted electronically to a practitioner with authority to issue and change prescriptions. We evaluated the use of PROforma during the knowledge acquisition, analysis, design and implementation of this system. The analysis focuses on the logical adequacy, heuristic power, notational convenience, and explanation support provided by the PROforma language.


PROforma proved adequate as a language for the implementation of the clinical reasoning required by this project. However a lack of notational convenience led us to use UML activity diagrams, rather than PROforma process descriptions, to create the models that were used during the knowledge acquisition and analysis phases of the project. These UML diagrams were translated into PROforma during the implementation of the project.


The experience accumulated during this study highlighted the importance of structure preserving design, that is to say that the models used in the design and implementation of a knowledge-based system should be structurally similar to those created during knowledge acquisition and analysis. Ideally the same language should be used for all of these models. This means that great importance has to be attached to the notational convenience of these languages, by which we mean the ease with which they can be read, written, and understood by human beings. The importance of notational convenience arises from the fact that a language used during knowledge acquisition and analysis must be intelligible to the potential users of a system, and to the domain experts who provide the knowledge that will be used in its construction.

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