What is an open source clinical terminology resource?

Angus Roberts

Open Source software is now ubiquitous. The notion that software can be both free, reliable, and supported, is no longer at issue. Look around. But how does this relate to clinical terminology?

If a clinical terminology is a data-set, then being open means there are no licence fees for its use. LOINC is an example.

GALEN, however, understands that terminologies for the computer age are more than a data-set: they must be the combination of clinical content together with software to manage and deliver that content. People need to be able to build special purpose terminologies quickly and easily and be confident that these will link to existing tools or other terminologies. GALEN aims to provide a fundamental terminology resource to achieve this underlying coherence.

GALEN’s view of an open clinical terminology resource is closer to the notion of open-source software. There are source files that can be modified, extended, changed, and then compiled – by anyone.

But here’s the challenge: open source software needs a community with programming skills and compilers. In the context of clinical terminology, such a community does not – yet – exist. OpenGALEN has been set up to encourage such a community to develop.

To push-start this process, OpenGALEN provides licences to the GALEN Common Reference Model free of charge. It is not public domain, but it is free, and it is open. Open-ness means that you are allowed, both legally and practically, to use and modify the GALEN Common Reference Model as you wish. Using the Common Reference Model still requires a licence, but the primary purpose of the licence is to ensure the continuing open-ness of a growing and shared resource. And the license is free.

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