Healthcare terminologies to align for more interoperable EMRs

The standards organisations behind the healthcare terminologies LOINC and SNOMED have signed a 10-year agreement to begin work aligning the two terminologies, which they say will make electronic medical records more effective for patient care.

LOINC, or Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes, was developed by the US-based Regenstrief Institute to provide a definitive standard for identifying clinical information in electronic reports.

SNOMED Clinical Terms (CT) is a logic-based healthcare terminology developed following the merger of the SNOMED Reference Terminology, devised by the College of American Pathologists, and the Read codes developed by the UK's National Health Service for general practice applications.

SNOMED CT is now maintained and developed by the International Health Terminology Standards Development Organisation (IHTSDO).

The Regenstrief Institute and the IHTSDO have now signed a long-term agreement to link the two terminologies, which they say will help improve safety, functionality and interoperability of EMRs.

In a statement, the two not-for-profit organisations said the cooperative work will link the rich clinical semantics of SNOMED CT to LOINC codes, which provide extensive coverage of laboratory tests and some types of clinical measurements.

“By aligning how the two terminologies represent the attributes of laboratory tests and some types of clinical measurements, this collaboration will provide users a common framework within which to use LOINC and SNOMED CT," the organisations said.

They said the immediate focus would be on laboratory testing as well as some basic clinical measurements, and that they intend to expand into other areas of mutual interest in the future.

Associate director of terminology services at the Regenstrief, Daniel Vreeman, said the institute believed the joint work will enhance the ability of clinical systems worldwide to share and understand the health data they receive from many sources.

"This joint work will add value to both LOINC and SNOMED CT and will help both organisations accomplish more by reducing duplicate effort,” Professor Vreeman said. “Most importantly, a closer alignment of LOINC and SNOMED CT will make electronic health records more effective at improving healthcare."

Australian health informatician and chair of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia's (RCPA) informatics advisory committee, Michael Legg, said the agreement was “very pleasing news”.

“It will improve the quality and value of both SNOMED and LOINC,” Professor Legg said. “Recognising this, Australia has been very supportive of such cooperation between Regenstrief and IHTSDO, both formally and informally, for years.

“In anticipation of such an agreement being struck, the RCPA and other members of the Pathology Associations Council have made use of both LOINC and SNOMED in its work to standardise pathology terminology.

“The standardisation process continues here with another round of focused effort to further improve aspects of the quality and safety of pathology requesting and reporting with the Pathology Information, Terminology and Units Standardisation (PITUS) project.”

The PITUS project follows the successful conclusion of the Pathology Units and Terminology Standardisation (PUTS) project, which developed reference sets of terminology for pathology requesting and reporting and preferred units of measurement for results.

This has led to the development of an Australian Pathology Units and Terminology Standard (APUTS). Professor Legg said the PITUS project was a continuation of this work, and will concentrate on the implementation of the standard in working medical practices and pathology providers.

A committee overseeing the implementation of the standards in pathology and desktop systems is co-chaired by Professor Legg and Professor Graham Jones in association with NEHTA and the Medical Software Industry Association (MSIA).

The standardised terminology is being used as a component of metadata for the index entry of pathology reports in the PCEHR.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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