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SNOMED International - Global Approach to Healthcare and Standards

The digitisation of health information through the use of medical terminologies is an essential component of integration in any modern healthcare system.

What’s more, the development of a global language for health, uniting health systems from around the world and enabling them to communicate with and understand one another, should not be the job of one or two organizations or companies. It should be an international endeavor, utilizing the skills and efforts of experts from around the world.

A combination of different standards in a healthcare system provides a clinically validated way for computer systems to collect, connect, aggregate, translate and exchange health information for various uses. SNOMED CT®, for example, is a reference terminology standard that provides standard codes, descriptions and synonyms for over 325,000 clinical concepts that support the seamless, unambiguous sharing of clinical information among digital health solutions.

In addition to IBM Watson Health, leading industry experts, HIMSS Analytics and Gartner, have all identified structured data and controlled medical vocabularies, such as SNOMED CT, as an essential component needed for advanced interoperability to enable widespread sharing and use of consistent clinical information. Formally structured information and controlled vocabularies, like SNOMED CT, enable recognition of important information in patient records to support healthcare decision making, care delivery, monitoring, reporting and analysis.

Information systems that have the ability to recognize patterns in health information and deliver current, actionable information to healthcare providers, relevant to their work, may help users stay abreast of innovations, recognize patients’ needs and deliver better outcomes for their patients. Globally, genomics, precision medicine and big data are poised to impact healthcare over the next couple of years. Harmonization of messaging, terminology and clinical practice standards may speed up the patient care process and the discovery of treatments for rare and complex disorders.

It’s not hard to recognize that not all healthcare professionals are using the same system of classifying and coding health data; the outcome of which makes data analysis infinitely more difficult. In order for clinical data to be exchanged accurately and consistently across all care settings, a single clinical terminology is required to improve how clinical data can be analysed and reported on, enabling better care.

Tackling these challenges cannot be done in isolation. SNOMED International has an active program of collaboration with international standards development organizations and professional clinical bodies in order to facilitate the use of SNOMED CT with other international standards. These collaborative initiatives and partnerships aim to enhance consistency in meaningful data capture and information exchange and to improve safety, while improving functionality and enabling interoperability for the growing number of healthcare professions that use and exchange electronic health records. Some of the resulting products include mappings, SNOMED CT subsets and guidance on the use of SNOMED CT alongside and integrated with other standards e.g., ICD-11 and HL7 messages. Additional cross-maps are also under development or consideration to facilitate reuse of SNOMED CT-encoded data for other purposes, such as reimbursement or statistical reporting.

As the number of smaller terminologies around the globe shrink, patients, clinicians and healthcare systems will be better served through a global, collaborative approach to clinical terminology, the outcome of which is more accurate and consistent sharing of clinical data, which all healthcare professionals can understand.

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Don Sweete, Chief Executive Officer, SNOMED International
Appointed CEO in January 2014, Don Sweete has been associated with SNOMED International as a member of the Management Board since October 2011. A graduate of Canada’s Dalhousie University, Don possesses extensive experience in health services and health information technology. He has held executive positions on both the commercial and governmental sides of the business for the past 32 years, both in Canada and internationally.


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