The Referent Tracking System (RTS)

The Referent Tracking System (RTS) is an implementation of the Referent Tracking Paradigm, introduced in 2005 by Werner Ceusters, in which each real world entity is assigned its own unique ID. Currently, the Referent Tracking Unit is developing the RTS. The application is designed to be able to store, in a database or 'repository', references to (1) individual entities in reality, (2) the relationships that obtain between these entities, and (3) the generic classes to which the individual entities belong. The application is extendable to very high orders of magnitude. Our approach is based on ontologies grounded in realism, but it can be extended also to information that is captured using the terminologies or concept-based ontologies found in traditional knowledge representation systems.

The RTS is designed to act as a backbone for other applications such as electronic heath records (EHRs). It uses RDF as a representational language and can be queried by means of a variety of semantic query languages, thereby providing support for reasoning over multiple ontologies. The software is developed in Java, and is available as a stand alone server application accessible through web services as well as a library which allows client applications to embed the RTS. The server is intended to be hosted by a health institute, which acts as the hub for other health institutes (clients) providing its interface via WebServices to the remote clients. The RTS also contains a visualization component for the graphs stored in the Referent Tracking database.


Although the RTS can be used independently in a single setting -- for example, within a single general practitioner's surgery or within the context of a hospital -- the paradigm's real benefits emerge when it is used in a distributed, collaborative environment, acting as a central server to which many health institutes are connected. One and the same patient is often cared for by a variety of healthcare providers, many of them working in different settings, and each of these settings may use its own separate information system. These systems contain different data, but these data often provide information about the same particulars. Under the current state of affairs, it is very hard, if not impossible, to query these data in such a way that, for a given particular, all information available can be reliably and accurately retrieved. With the right sort of distributed RTS, reliable and accurate retrieval becomes possible.

Therefore, an RTS should be in line with the following design principles. It should:

  • Run as a backbone for any EHR system whereby both the EHR and the RTS run independently;
  • Run on any platform, e.g., Windows, Unix, Linux;
  • Be independent of the programming environment in which it has been developed;
  • Have reasoning capabilities;
  • Run in a secure box such that only authorized users can access the services of the RTS;
  • Handle billions of records in an efficient and reliable way.
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