A Connecticut computer software company today announced it has won a $4.7 million, 21-month contract to help the Department of Veterans Affairs develop and integrate a standardized, systemwide clinical terminology for the VA's electronic medical records system.
Ron Nath, M.D., an informaticist and a senior clinical consultant for software developer Apelon, of Ridgefield, Conn., said the goal is to allow computers carrying the EMR, called Veterans Integrated Services Technology and Architecture, or VistA, to communicate with each other in the same clinical language.
The clinical terminology system will work even if the physicians and other healthcare providers at the 128 VA facilities use different terms locally for the same condition, according to Nath. In that sense, the envisioned system, to be called an Enterprise Reference Terminology, will act as both a dictionary and a translator of clinical language.
"To the end-users, they will recognize the terms they?re familiar with, but at the same time, behind the scenes, the system is pointing to standardized clinical terms," says Nath.
At the core of the system, according to Nath, will be the Systemized Nomenclature of Medicine, or Snomed, clinical terminology, developed by Snomed International, of Northfield, Ill., a not-for-profit arm of the College of American Pathology, and the VA's own National Drug File Reference Terminology, or NDF-RT.
Other clinical terminologies could be incorporated into the system, including the Local Observation Identifiers and Codes, LOINC, developed by the Regenstrief Institute for lab results, CPT and DRG codes, and others, Nath says.
"I think it's going to be a matter of looking at all the things out there and seeing what makes sense for the VA and what makes sense for the country as a whole," he says. "It's about time somebody's stepped up to the challenge to set a national standard."
The move by the VA is another federal initiative to seed the development of a standardized, national clinical terminology. In February, Modern Physician reported that Snomed and the National Library of Medicine had reached an agreement in principle in which the NLM would provide free licenses to all users of the clinical terminology.
In March, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson also announced that his agency, the Department of Defense and the VA are committed to using common electronic healthcare information communications standards.