Development of a Comprehensive Medical Error Ontology

Author: Pallavi Mokkarala, MS

Primary Advisor: James P. Turley, RN, PhD (co-author)

Committee Members: Todd R. Johnson, PhD (co-author); Jiajie Zhang, PhD (co-author)

Masters thesis, The University of Texas Health Science Center School of Health Information Sciences at Houston.


A critical step towards reducing errors in healthcare is the collection and assessment of medical error data so that potential harms to patients can be identified and steps taken to prevent or mitigate them. However, no standardized framework for classifying and evaluating such data currently exists. This paper describes our efforts in developing a comprehensive medical error ontology to serve as a standard representation for medical error concepts gleaned from various existing published taxonomies, and to the ultimate goal of improving patient safety. Eight candidate taxonomies were selected from published literature and merged to create a reference ontology consisting of 12 multi-dimensional axes that encompass all the aspects of a medical error event. Next steps include mapping the reference ontology to the original taxonomies and building a knowledge base of medical error cases. The ultimate goal of the project is to identify strategies for improvement to prevent future adverse events in healthcare.