Standards Community Responds Quickly to COVID-19 Crisis with New Concepts and Terms

By Anil Patel

Health care organizations need the ability to share health information consistently and efficiently, and the current COVID-19 public health emergency illustrates why.

The exchange of information according to an agreed set of standards enables health care professionals to share information consistently and efficiently. It gives health care providers the confidence that they understand the results and clinical assessments they are sharing with each other.

It’s simply not enough to have a name without a standard identifier, because the identifier is more precise and computable. Without standards, we will all collect information about COVID-19, but we may not collect it the same way. For example, some may electronically capture a COVID-19 diagnosis as “COVID-19” and others as “2019-nCOV.” SNOMED CT (Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine — Clinical Terms) uses standardized identifiers (or codes) such as “840539006” to represent COVID-19 and eliminate any confusion. Standardized data capture and communications ensure patients who are positive for the illness, get the right treatment. They also help us understand how the virus is trending by enabling public health officials to aggregate and analyze the data.

Because of the seriousness of this public health crisis, it was important for standards development organizations to quickly create concepts and identifiers for COVID-19. I’m proud of how quickly the LOINC (Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes) and SNOMED CT communities worked to create new identifiers. Canada was the first country to make the new SNOMED CT interim release available in its own edition — and we can all be proud of this.

Similarly, Canada has been working with Canadian implementers to add new laboratory tests to LOINC/pCLOCD to help verify and track COVID-19 testing results. LOINC has a pre-release page where implementers can find and use this content prior to the next official release of LOINC (June 2020) and the pCLOCD (July 31, 2020).

The Canadian edition of the March 31 release includes another milestone — it introduced more than 77,000 French language terms to the Canadian Edition of SNOMED CT. This was no small feat. Like the quick response for creating COVID-19 terms, this involved international collaboration. There are different dialects of French, so agreeing on the translation of more than 77,000 terms is monumental.

I hope you will join me in congratulating those who worked so quickly to add COVID-19 terms to both the recent release of SNOMED CT and to the LOINC pre-release. The implementation of these terminologies helps patients get the care they need, and equips our public health professionals with the tools they need to track and monitor the spread of the illness, and measure outcomes to help Canadians flatten the curve.

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About the author
Anil Patel

Anil Patel

Anil Patel is a Senior Standards Specialist at Canada Health Infoway. He has been involved in all aspects of health care for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Before joining the world of health informatics, he was a medical laboratory technologist for 15 years at SickKids. His mantra is “Good data creates a healthy future.” Anil is a devoted father, gardener and soccer fan.