SNOMED International CEO, Don Sweete talks to Healthcare World about SNOMED CT, SNOMED International and its global, thriving community
SNOMED International is an organisation committed to maintaining and growing our global expertise in healthcare terminology, ensuring that SNOMED CT is the common language for clinical terms globally and contributed to by clinical, standards and industry partners worldwide.
SNOMED CT is the most comprehensive, multilingual, clinical healthcare terminology in the world and is a resource with scientifically validated clinical content. It allows for the consistent representation of clinical content in electronic health records, such as clinical information systems, health data and analytics platforms, and interoperability solutions.
It is developed collaboratively to ensure it meets the diverse needs and expectations of clinicians and other stakeholders worldwide. Adopting a “hub” approach, SNOMED CT is also mapped to many other international standards and adaptable to each country’s requirements. In fact, once a country or designated authority becomes a Member, anyone within those borders can access and use SNOMED CT and its related products and services, both for non-commercial and commercial purposes, without prejudice.
Q: Who is responsible for SNOMED CT?
A: SNOMED International is the organisation that drives the maintenance and the evolution of SNOMED CT. A non-profit, Member-driven organisation, SNOMED International plays an essential role in improving the health of humankind by determining standards for a codified language representing groups of clinical terms. SNOMED CT enables healthcare information to be exchanged globally for the benefit of patients/citizens, care providers and other stakeholders.
For the past 20 years now, SNOMED International, or IHTSDO as it was previously named, has produced the SNOMED CT International Edition. Striving to determine the best global standards for health terminologies, the organisation engages with the global healthcare community on many fronts, and from many angles to improve SNOMED CT so that it best serves the clinical information needs of a diverse range of stakeholders.
Originally developed by the US College of American Pathologists, the organisation we know today exists due to a global coalition of 9 charter Members, 5 from Europe, that identified the significant need of clinical terminology in the world’s electronic health records, creating a mechanism to assure equal access to it from its participating Members.
Q: So, who uses SNOMED CT?
A: Broadly speaking, there is more than just one health stakeholder invested in the use of SNOMED CT. Across policymakers to Members, care providers, collaboration partners, researchers and knowledge producers, vendors, and even patients and citizens — each part of this stakeholder ecosystem plays a role in the use and outcomes realisation of SNOMED CT, preserving a delicate balance among the stakeholders.
SNOMED International now has 42 Members spread across the globe with the most recent Member countries including Germany and the United Arab Emirates joining in 2021, and Thailand in early 2022. In fact, 22 of SNOMED International’s Members are based in the European region and last year, a foundation for broadened European use of SNOMED CT via a grant programme offered by the European Union was put into place. Specifically, the European Union agreed to provide a grant of 60 per cent of the annual SNOMED CT Membership license fee to EU Member States with the goal of making it easier for those countries to use SNOMED CT and to further interoperability globally. This funding is available to all European Member States through the European Health and Digital Executive Agency until 2027, a decision that signifies the commitment that governments and international regions are making to solve for health information interoperability.
Beyond traditional membership, the organisation also delivers SNOMED CT to more than 30,000 affiliates globally and SNOMED CT now serves approximately one-third of the global population across 80+ countries.
Q: What value does SNOMED CT offer its users and health systems around the world?
A: The pathway to realising the full value of SNOMED CT is when it is embedded in a computer system, typically a clinical information system, a health data & analytics platform, or an interoperability solution. The logic is that SNOMED CT improves the information quality in these systems, and when coupled with other features, increases the adoption and satisfaction of its users.
The extensive use of clinical information systems, health data & analytics platforms and interoperability solutions, which is at an all-time high, leads to the achievement of key benefits. In this case, better health and improved patient outcomes, as reflected in our vision.
SNOMED CT delivers different benefits to each of its unique stakeholders. It supports care providers, patients/citizens along with researchers and knowledge producers to create data, information, evidence and knowledge. From that, care providers, patients/citizens, and policy makers use and share the data, information, evidence and knowledge to effect action, making improvements to patient outcomes and health system value. Completing the ecosystem, SNOMED CT supports vendors, implementers, collaboration partners and Members to support all stakeholders by enhancing SNOMED CT and deploying it globally.
Q: How do different adopters use SNOMED CT?
A: As I mentioned, having SNOMED CT-coded data embedded in any type of electronic health record or interoperability solution is necessary for SNOMED CT to function. Keeping that in mind, using SNOMED CT for data entry and integration sets a foundation for many other uses. These include clinical information sharing, as well as a range of analytics functions to support point of care, population and management purposes. Another key area where SNOMED CT delivers benefits is conducting clinical, laboratory and scientific research.
Q: What SNOMED CT services does the organisation offer its Members?
A: In addition to maintenance, quality assurance and the monthly release of the SNOMED CT International Edition, SNOMED International also delivers its stakeholders a multitude of other products and services.
Over the course of the year, SNOMED International delivers the Global Patient Set once annually, 3 Freesets, 7 Reference Sets and 5+ international maps to its global community. A range of collaborations, agreements and partnerships with organisations and associations such as WHO, GMDNA, MedDRA, European Union, ERA, DICOM, IHE, ICN, and Inserm, to name a few, truly signify the role of the organisation as a terminology hub.
SNOMED CT education, implementation and product support, open-source tooling, translation support, and dedicated global customer service make up a good share of the organisation’s services offerings. And, for our Members, each embarking on a journey and tackling it in their different ways, you can’t understate the value that a global community levers in terms of best practices and lessons learned.
Q: What’s next for SNOMED CT and the SNOMED International community?
A: There are a few interesting items on the horizon for our global community, which may also be of particular interest to the European community. Towards the end of 2021, SNOMED International shared its intention to extend the core of SNOMED CT’s structured clinical terminology to deliver an open, standalone terminology in support of the scope of content within the International Patient Summary (IPS) for non-Members. A beta release out for public comment, the organisation will make this available before the end of 2022.
To get a representative picture of the global SNOMED CT effort underway, the players can take in some excellent education resources. I recommend attending this year’s SNOMED CT Expo, September 29-30, Lisbon, Portugal and online. Registration opens on 15 June.
Representatives from the SNOMED International team are ready to talk about this and more. Whether you are a current Member or affiliate, or looking to better understand how SNOMED CT fits into your digital health landscape, I encourage you to visit Booth #240 over the course of the HIMSS European Health Conference & Exhibition.