Development of Systematic Knowledge Management for Public Health: A Public Health Law Ontology

Jonathan William Keeling

Development of Systematic Knowledge Management for Public Health: A Public Health Law Ontology
Keeling, Jonathan William
Thesis Advisor(s):
Merrill, Jacqueline A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Biomedical Informatics
Persistent URL:
The Institute of Medicine has stated that legal structures and the authority vested in health agencies and other partners within the public health system are essential to improving the public's health. Variation between the laws of different jurisdictions within the United States allows for natural experimentation and research into their relative effectiveness. Yet the current knowledge management environment of public health law lacks standardization and formalization of public health legal concepts. This study describes an ontology developed for two specific domains of public health law: emergency preparedness and community water fluoridation. An ontology of public health law concepts is an effective way to efficiently formalize, standardize, and manage this information for the benefit of public health practitioners, researchers, and policy-makers. Law corpora in the two domains collected in previous studies were obtained. The context of public health law work in research and practice including workflows, resources, and barriers to use was determined through key-informant interviews. Concepts and relationships were extracted from the law corpora and from supporting documentation using natural language processing. Concepts and relationships were refined and mapped together using a modified Delphi survey conducted with a panel of public health law experts. The resulting concept map was used to create the public health law ontology in Protégé. The final prototype ontology contains 9 semantic types, 8 kinds of semantic relations, 1,484 concepts, 3,793 law instances, and 3,022 semantic relationships. The ontology was evaluated in two ways: first by using information retrieval scenarios with experts and second by comparing the breadth and depth quantitatively to existing ontologies. Using the ontology, the time required for information retrieval decreased and precision improved compared to current methods. Although this ontology has low breadth and depth compared to existing ontologies, it has larger breadth and depth when used to annotate public health laws in comparison to news articles and laws in general. Knowledge management is critical in information rich environments and allows us to improve the development, discovery, communication, translation, conversion, maintenance, and application of this knowledge. This ontology is significant because few formal knowledge management tools exist for public health and law and none exist at the intersection of those fields. It is a first step toward developing a shared understanding of the conceptual content and relationships of public health law and is formative work that will support the science of public health. It is also a common framework that will allow for enhanced information retrieval, data annotation and integration, semantic interoperability, and reasoning across public health jurisdictions, a critical step for improving public health research and practice.
Public health
Information technology
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Suggested Citation:
Jonathan William Keeling, , Development of Systematic Knowledge Management for Public Health: A Public Health Law Ontology, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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