Updated November 26, 2008

What is SNOMED CT?
SNOMED CT is a dynamic, scientifically validated clinical reference terminology that makes health care knowledge more usable and accessible. SNOMED CT provides a common language that enables a consistent way of capturing, sharing and aggregating health data across specialties and sites of care. Among the applications for SNOMED CT are electronic medical records, ICU monitoring, clinical decision support, medical research studies, clinical trials, computerized physician order entry, disease surveillance, image indexing and consumer health information services.

The terminology contains health care concepts with unique meanings and formal logic-based definitions organized into hierarchies; unique descriptions for each concept; and semantic relationships to enable reliability and consistency of data retrieval. It is available in English, Spanish and German language editions.

What does SNOMED mean to health care?
SNOMED CT will help structure and computerize the medical record, reducing the variability in the way data is captured, encoded and used for clinical care of patients and medical research. For patients, it means that doctors and other care providers are more likely to have information about a patient's medical history, illnesses, treatments, and laboratory results at their fingertips, whenever it is needed. A care provider can more easily send to and receive electronic information from another health care practitioner to deliver the best patient care possible.

Applications using SNOMED CT are limitless. Beyond electronic medical records, the terminology is used for physician ordering of drugs and laboratory tests, genomic databases, telemedicine, public health reporting, and clinical research. Sharing of data will increase the accuracy of clinical documentation, facilitate clinical decision support, and improve patient safety and enhance clinical outcomes.

How can organizations use SNOMED CT?
SNOMED Terminology Solutions works with clients to implement SNOMED CT in a variety of applications. Those applications include, but are not limited to:

  • Electronic Medical Records
  • Computerized Patient Order Entry such as e-prescribing or laboratory order entry
  • Disease templates
  • Remote Intensive Care Unit Monitoring
  • Laboratory Reporting
  • Emergency Room Charting
  • Cancer Reporting
  • Therapeutic Decision Support
  • Genetic Databases
  • Literature Encoding
  • Evidenced-Based Practice Solutions
  • Pharmaceutical Industry

Why is a broad-based standard terminology important for patient safety initiatives and health care delivery?
When built into electronic patient records software, SNOMED CT enables primary and specialty care providers and patients to share comparable data at any time, from any place. This ability has the potential to greatly reduce medical errors associated with traditional paper records.

To trigger decision-support rules, many different types of concepts must be linked to each other such as allergies to drugs, procedures to devices, and diseases to drug contraindications. Many of the common concepts occur across clinical domains, and at varying levels of specificity. Examples of this include:
  • Symptoms, signs and disorders may be documented by nurses, physicians, allied health professionals and veterinarians.
  • A laboratory test performed may be documented in the lab using a test name that indicates analyte, method and scale (e.g., LOINC or local code) whereas the order is written at the more general level (e.g., serology rickettsial antibody test).

Finally, to foster efficiency, data should be collected once, then shared and reused for many different uses. Clinical care, decision support and research, in addition to patient safety initiatives, rely on the same information.

How does SNOMED benefit consumers and patients?
Patients want continuity in the care they are provided. This will be achieved through the availability of consistent, reliable information relating to their health history and care processes. With SNOMED CT family history, medications, allergies, diseases and treatments that can be coded and shared between clinicians, sites of care and even geographic boundaries. Access to knowledge relating to each patient will ultimately result in the delivery of better, safer care.

Something as simple as ordering and fulfilling a prescription requires a doctor to write a prescription, the pharmacist to interpret the order from the doctor and then consider the appropriateness, potential allergies and contraindications. To evaluate the right drug for the disease requires more than just the name of the drug and its dosage. These are crucial steps to ensuring a patient's safety in this scenario.

It also means that doctors and pharmacists will be able to identify patients based on certain coded information in their records and contact them, confidentially, to let them know of a new procedure, new medication, or other information that can be of benefit.

And by facilitating research across the globe, consumers and patients will ultimately reap the benefit of new scientific knowledge as well.

How does SNOMED benefit care providers?
Think of how much more effective sharing your information would be if you could be assured that descriptions of your diagnoses and treatments were represented consistently across all health care providers. That’s the power of SNOMED CT for you and me, and others around the world.

With SNOMED CT as a central ingredient in health care delivery and the patient safety infrastructure, day-to-day work of clinicians can be supported, and at the same time, the special needs of any particular day can be addressed. Physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other clinicians can express concepts at the level of detail appropriate to them. The SNOMED CT structure links equivalent expressions to the appropriate clinical concept and ensures complete and consistent retrieval of patient information. The SNOMED CT infrastructure also enables the collection of comparable data to support the practice of evidence-based medicine, clinical research, outcomes analysis and public health reporting.

What does the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) license agreement provide?
For FAQs related to SNOMED and the NLM, please visit: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/research/umls/Snomed/snomed_faq.html.

How do I submit content for possible inclusion in SNOMED CT?
Please follow the directions below (also outlined at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/research/umls/Snomed/snomed_faq.html).

Send SNOMED CT concept suggestions to the National Library of Medicine Customer Service (custserv@nlm.nih.gov). Please include “SNOMED CT Concept Request” in the "Subject" line and the following information:

  1. Suggested concept. Include synonyms or alternate forms used.
  2. Definition.
  3. How is it used? Include some information about the sense or context in which the term occurs and how frequently it is likely to be used.
  4. What is the nearest SNOMED CT concept? How does the suggested concept relate to its nearest SNOMED CT concept(s)? For example, is it a more detailed or specific form of a broader concept in SNOMED CT? If it is more specific, why is the distinction involved important in your context?
  5. How do you use SNOMED CT in your organization or application? For example: electronic medical records, clinical decision support, medical research studies, clinical trials, computerized physician order entry, disease surveillance, image indexing.
  6. Whom may we contact for additional information or follow-up? Please include: Contact name, Title, Organization, Address, Telephone number, Email address, UMLS Licensee Name (if not the contact) and UMLS License Number.

Suggestions will be reviewed for warrant and other criteria of usefulness, reproducibility in use and for understanding. Please include as much of the above information as possible with your submission. We value your contributions to SNOMED CT and look forward to hearing from you.

Will software suppliers and/or end users be able to get support directly from SNOMED Terminology Solutions?
We encourage health care entities, medical researchers, software suppliers and other commercial organizations to come directly to SNOMED Terminology Solutions for education and consulting services to support their implementation and use of SNOMED CT.

Will the College be actively involved in the adoption of SNOMED CT?
Yes. The College, an ANSI Standards Development Organization, is committed to the widespread adoption of SNOMED CT both here in the United States and around the world. Access is just the first step, hence the creation of the International Health Terminology Standards Development Organization (www.ihtsdo.org). To achieve wide-scale use of the clinical terminology standard is next. There is a great deal of work to be done to create an awareness of the unsurpassed content and functionality that SNOMED CT delivers, to educate the health care community as to the benefits of and the role clinical terminology plays in the health care continuum, and to work with software suppliers and the provider community to maximize the use of SNOMED CT to aid in reducing the costs of health care delivery and in improving patient safety.

Who is involved with the continuing evolution and maintenance of SNOMED CT?
The International Health Terminology Standards Development Organisation (www.ihtsdo.org) leads the development of SNOMED CT. SNOMED Terminology Solutions serves as the IHTSDO’s support organization. The IHTSDO manages the ongoing maintenance and evolution of SNOMED CT. It is be responsible for the scientific direction, editorial processes, scientific validity and integrity of the terminology standard.

How often will SNOMED CT be updated and released?
The English language editions, US and UK, of SNOMED CT are released twice a year, in January and July. The Spanish edition is released twice a year, in April and October.

How can I provide feedback to SNOMED Terminology Solutions?
SNOMED Terminology Solutions clients and those interested in working with us can provide feedback by calling 800-323-4040 ext. 7700 (U.S.) or 847-832-7700 (from outside the U.S.) or e-mail snomedsolutions@cap.org.


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