The National Library of Medicine and Snomed International are expected to announce Tuesday a contract to provide government-subsidized licenses for users of the Snomed CT controlled clinical language.
The announcement is scheduled to be made by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson at the National Healthcare Information Infrastructure conference in Washington, D.C., according to sources knowledgeable about the contract. The NHII, an initiative to boost clinical technology, is sponsored by HHS.
The agreement, first reported on ModernPhysician.com in February, would reduce cost as a barrier to promulgating the Snomed terminology within electronic medical records systems.
The plan by the government to provide licenses free to healthcare systems and technology vendors has been applauded by healthcare information technology professionals as a boon to medical informatics that will bring uniformity and precision to clinical record keeping. According to the government, a uniform clinical terminology is the last big building block needed for the development of an EMR.
The NLM is leading a group of federal agencies, including HHS, the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs, in sponsoring the license fee payment scheme.
Snomed International, based in Northfield, Ill., is a not-for-profit corporation founded and controlled by the College of American Pathologists. Funds from the government-sponsored license fees will be used by Snomed to maintain the terminology and keep it current.
John Mattison, M.D., assistant medical director for clinical systems, Southern Division, Kaiser Permanente, has been working with Snomed to integrate the terminology into the Kaiser electronic medical records system.
Mattison would neither confirm nor deny that the announcement will come Tuesday but added, "That's our hope. That's been our target date for a long time."
Mattison says IT-savvy physician executives will come to see the NLM deal as good for their practices and patients.
"If they really want to do any advance decision support or any data mining of any consequence, there is no good alternative to Snomed as to the richness of the terminology," Mattison says. Also, ICD-9 and CPT codes simply cannot do what Snomed--which also codifies symptoms--can in creating what he described as "deployable" clinical guidelines that will be used at the point of care.
"Every doc carries around a little book of guidelines that sits in your pocket," he says. "They get tattered pages from walking, not using. What you need to do is have those guidelines imbedded in an (electronic) decision support system."
If for example, with the recent outbreak of SARS, a patient presents with a 104-degree fever, breathing difficulties and declining vigor, the codes for those symptoms can be programmed into the EMR of a hospital to trigger an alert to the physician as to the possibility of the new disease, according to Mattison.