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Validating coding standards are vital to data sharing

New tool implementation success relies on clinical stakeholders to validate terminologies for better interoperability.
By admin
Mar 24, 2022, 8:00 AM

Standard terminology across digital health systems is critical to creating a cohesive healthcare platform for all providers. And while most systems already have an EMR in place, the challenge comes when retrofitting a company’s technology to communicate with other digital platforms and optimize data flow.

“Using the right terminology standards requires clinical judgment and the involvement of the users of the system to validate terminologies,” Dr. Joyoti Goswami, principal consultant, Damo Consulting, said. 

For example, she notes that a simple search for a suitable code for “Haemoglobin” returns 480 results. Therefore, the correct code needs to be selected based on various parameters. This includes the type of sample, the units in which it is being measured, the method, time, etc. So if the right stakeholders are not involved in validating these codes, multiple systems can not recognize the shared data.

“The key to improving data sharing is to use healthcare standards for interoperability,” said Goswami. And creating interoperability begins by partnering with the right technology vendor. So before committing to a vendor to retrofit new features into existing EMR workflows, Goswami recommends that healthcare tech teams ask two essential questions:

  1. Are the vendor’s systems compliant with standard HL7 or FHIR standards?
  2. Are the terminologies being shared using recommended USCDI coding standards – usually SNOMED or LOINC for the clinical terms – so that the communication is seamless?

Once a partner vendor is chosen, all relevant stakeholders—clinical and technical—need to be involved in creating the terminology standards.

Related story: ONC’s 2022 agenda focuses on interoperability to enable the greater good

Standardizing terminology has become even more important since the start of COVID-19. During the pandemic, telehealth became a preferred consulting method for patients and their physicians. As virtual visits gained popularity quickly, SNOMED International and LOINC had to pivot quickly and update their terminologies in the clinical, laboratory, and diagnostics domains to include standard codes for clinical languages. In addition, Goswami notes that public health reporting and surveillance monitored by CDC during the pandemic was helped by the standardization of terminologies across systems.

Still, there is work to be done to create cohesive communication across platforms, especially as telehealth continues to grow and be incorporated into hybrid models of care. 

“Streamlining data is more about people interactions and less about technology,” Goswami said. “With the availability of connected devices, integrating using the principles of healthcare standards, people interactions can be more interactive with technology playing an assistive role in the background.”

Healthcare systems need to be acting now to assure interoperability in the future as technology is ever-evolving. A big piece of the current transition means selecting partners – both EMR and other vendors who are compliant with HL7 and terminology standards. Plus, healthcare systems need to collaborate with peer systems to exchange healthcare records so that systems can be tested.

“Today, there are over 25 industries who rely on GS1 (UPC codes) for their master data management behind bar codes. Healthcare supply chain and medications use GS1,” said Dale Sanders, chief strategy officer, Intelligent Medical Objects. “The same kinds of terminology concepts and master data management that improve grocery, retail, and supply chain, can also be applied more broadly.” 

Still, Sanders says he’s witnessed great strides in terminology implementation recently. 

“Truth is, we can’t truly leverage the power of computers until we adopt comprehensive and persistent terminology in healthcare,” he said. “The computability of terminology is happening right now in society, as evidenced by search engines and voice recognition. It’s time for us to apply it to the unique language of U.S. healthcare.”


Jacqueline Renfrow is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience reporting on and writing about the intersection of healthcare, education, and retail with technology. Living just outside of Washington, DC, she enjoys exploring all that the nation’s capital has to offer with her husband and three children in tow.

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