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Formalizing a Conceptual Framework of Work Domain Knowledge

Author: Min Zhu, MD, MS (2010)

Primary Advisor: Jiajie Zhang, PhD

Committee Members: Todd R. Johnson, PhD; Kim Dunn, MD, PhD; Craig W. Johnson, PhD; Amy Franklin, PhD; Muhammad Walji, PhD

PhD Thesis, The University of Texas School of Biomedical Informatics at Houston.


Background:The failure rate of health information systems is high, partially due to fragmented, incomplete, or incorrect identification and description of specific and critical domain requirements. In order to systematically transform the requirements of work into real information system, an explicit conceptual framework is essential to summarize the work requirements and guide system design. Recently, Butler, Zhang, and colleagues proposed a conceptual framework called Work Domain Ontology (WDO) to formally represent users’ work. This WDO approach has been successfully demonstrated in a real world design project on aircraft scheduling. However, as a top level conceptual framework, this WDO has not defined an explicit and well specified schema (WDOS) , and it does not have a generalizable and operationalized procedure that can be easily applied to develop WDO. Moreover, WDO has not been developed for any concrete healthcare domain. These limitations hinder the utility of WDO in real world information system in general and in health information system in particular.

Objective: The objective of this research is to formalize the WDOS, operationalize a procedure to develop WDO, and evaluate WDO approach using Self-Nutrition Management (SNM) work domain.

Method: Concept analysis was implemented to formalize WDOS. Focus group interview was conducted to capture concepts in SNM work domain. Ontology engineering methods were adopted to model SNM WDO. Part of the concepts under the primary goal “staying healthy” for SNM were selected and transformed into a semi-structured survey to evaluate the acceptance, explicitness, completeness, consistency,  experience dependency of SNM WDO.

Result: Four concepts, “goal, operation, object and constraint”, were identified and formally modeled in WDOS with definitions and attributes. 72 SNM WDO concepts under primary goal were selected and transformed into semi-structured survey questions. The evaluation indicated that the major concepts of SNM WDO were accepted by 41 overweight subjects. SNM WDO is generally independent of user domain experience but partially dependent on SNM application experience. 23 of 41 paired concepts had significant correlations. Two concepts were identified as ambiguous concepts. 8 extra concepts were recommended towards the completeness of SNM WDO.

Conclusion:  The preliminary WDOS is ready with an operationalized procedure. SNM WDO has been developed to guide future SNM application design. This research is an essential step towards Work-Centered Design (WCD).