Ontologies Applied in Clinical Decision Support System Rules: Systematic Review

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Background: Clinical decision support systems (CDSSs) are important for the quality and safety of health care delivery. Although CDSS rules guide CDSS behavior, they are not routinely shared and reused. Objective: Ontologies have the potential to promote the reuse of CDSS rules. Therefore, we systematically screened the literature to elaborate on the current status of ontologies applied in CDSS rules, such as rule management, which uses captured CDSS rule usage data and user feedback data to tailor CDSS services to be more accurate, and maintenance, which updates CDSS rules. Through this systematic literature review, we aim to identify the frontiers of ontologies used in CDSS rules. Methods: The literature search was focused on the intersection of ontologies; clinical decision support; and rules in PubMed, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Digital Library, and the Nursing & Allied Health Database. Grounded theory and PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) 2020 guidelines were followed. One author initiated the screening and literature review, while 2 authors validated the processes and results independently. The inclusion and exclusion criteria were developed and refined iteratively. Results: CDSSs were primarily used to manage chronic conditions, alerts for medication prescriptions, reminders for immunizations and preventive services, diagnoses, and treatment recommendations among 81 included publications. The CDSS rules were presented in Semantic Web Rule Language, Jess, or Jena formats. Despite the fact that ontologies have been used to provide medical knowledge, CDSS rules, and terminologies, they have not been used in CDSS rule management or to facilitate the reuse of CDSS rules. Conclusions: Ontologies have been used to organize and represent medical knowledge, controlled vocabularies, and the content of CDSS rules. So far, there has been little reuse of CDSS rules. More work is needed to improve the reusability and interoperability of CDSS rules. This review identified and described the ontologies that, despite their limitations, enable Semantic Web technologies and their applications in CDSS rules.