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J Med Internet Res. 2008 Aug 26;10(3):e25. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1059.

SOMWeb: a semantic web-based system for supporting collaboration of distributed medical communities of practice.

Author information

1
School of Humanities and Informatics, University of Skövde, PO Box 408, SE-541 28 Skövde, Sweden. goran.falkman@his.se

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Information technology (IT) support for remote collaboration of geographically distributed communities of practice (CoP) in health care must deal with a number of sociotechnical aspects of communication within the community. In the mid-1990s, participants of the Swedish Oral Medicine Network (SOMNet) began discussing patient cases in telephone conferences. The cases were distributed prior to the conferences using PowerPoint and email. For the technical support of online CoP, Semantic Web technologies can potentially fulfill needs of knowledge reuse, data exchange, and reasoning based on ontologies. However, more research is needed on the use of Semantic Web technologies in practice.

OBJECTIVES:

The objectives of this research were to (1) study the communication of distributed health care professionals in oral medicine; (2) apply Semantic Web technologies to describe community data and oral medicine knowledge; (3) develop an online CoP, Swedish Oral Medicine Web (SOMWeb), centered on user-contributed case descriptions and meetings; and (4) evaluate SOMWeb and study how work practices change with IT support.

METHODS:

Based on Java, and using the Web Ontology Language and Resource Description Framework for handling community data and oral medicine knowledge, SOMWeb was developed using a user-centered and iterative approach. For studying the work practices and evaluating the system, a mixed-method approach of interviews, observations, and a questionnaire was used.

RESULTS:

By May 2008, there were 90 registered users of SOMWeb, 93 cases had been added, and 18 meetings had utilized the system. The introduction of SOMWeb has improved the structure of meetings and their discussions, and a tenfold increase in the number of participants has been observed. Users submit cases to seek advice on diagnosis or treatment, to show an unusual case, or to create discussion. Identified barriers to submitting cases are lack of time, concern about whether the case is interesting enough, and showing gaps in one's own knowledge. Three levels of member participation are discernable: a core group that contributes most cases and most meeting feedback; an active group that participates often but only sometimes contribute cases and feedback; and a large peripheral group that seldom or never contribute cases or feedback.

CONCLUSIONS:

SOMWeb is beneficial for individual clinicians as well as for the SOMNet community. The system provides an opportunity for its members to share both high quality clinical practice knowledge and external evidence related to complex oral medicine cases. The foundation in Semantic Web technologies enables formalization and structuring of case data that can be used for further reasoning and research. Main success factors are the long history of collaboration between different disciplines, the user-centered development approach, the existence of a "champion" within the field, and nontechnical community aspects already being in place.

PMID:
18725355
PMCID:
PMC2626431
DOI:
10.2196/jmir.1059
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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