Why We Need Standards

Patient care is a continuum — many patients see more than one provider, and often return for multiple visits. It’s important that providers have an accurate picture of a patient’s history across the care continuum. This requires unambiguous communication.

Pan-Canadian standards are part of a strong foundation to realizing the full value of digital health solutions that can help ensure Canadians receive the care they need. Standards provide the technical framework and clinical language that enables thousands of health care providers to communicate and share health information that is contextual and unambiguous in meaning.

Pan-Canadian standards support the safe and secure exchange of health care information (e.g. drugs, labs, diagnostic imaging) across the continuum of care, clinical decision support (e.g. alerts and reminders), data analytics, population health management (e.g. screening, public health) and more. They are an important part of interoperability, which is the ability for information to flow seamlessly between different health systems, workflows and solutions.

Standards in Action

The importance of standards has long been recognized and has been further demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Standards enabled health care workers to collect information about COVID-19 in a consistent and precise way. Various standards communities came together to quickly create new identifiers to help standardize reporting and data collection related to COVID-19. This enables providers to communicate with each other and precisely understand a patient’s history regardless of where they received care.

For example, when a patient is vaccinated against COVID-19, it is important to know what vaccine was administered; there are SNOMED CT® (Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine — Clinical Terms) codes for this purpose. Precise terminologies combined with a messaging standard such as HL7 FHIR (standards that deliver this information from system to system) ensure that vaccine information can be collected, shared and used by other systems and providers to ensure good care, support surveillance and health system use.

This is just one example across a large portfolio of standards that enable systems and providers to communicate clearly with one another. Such standards also help us understand population health. In the case of COVID-19, standardized collection and communication of information help us understand how the virus is trending by enabling public health officials to aggregate and analyze data.

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