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Meaningful Use Quality Performance Measures Benefit from New SNOMED CT “Public Good” Use Policy

A new policy permitting worldwide free access to SNOMED CT preferred names and concept identifiers will bolster current US efforts to use quality performance measurement as a key driver for advancing interoperable exchange of health data, as required by the Meaningful Use provisions of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The policy supports free distribution and use of SNOMED CT terms in measure specifications that would be both human-readable and machine-readable, thereby facilitating broad stakeholder consideration and review of these critical performance metrics.

The opportunity for free “public good” use of SNOMED CT was announced in late January 2011, by the International Health Terminology Standards Development Organisation (IHTSDO), the international body responsible for SNOMED CT (Systematized Nomenclature of MEDicine--Clinical Terms). (For more details, see the IHTSDO press release at http://www.ihtsdo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Docs_01/Press_Releases/20112701-IHTSDO-NLM-press.pdf). SNOMED CT is owned and distributed by the IHTSDO, a non-profit multi-national organization based in Denmark. The U.S. participates in IHTSDO through the National Library of Medicine, which is the US Member to the group and national distribution center for the terminology.

Reaction to the new policy has been strongly positive from the health data standards and quality measure development communities. Floyd Eisenberg, MD, Senior Vice President for Health Information Technology at National Quality Forum (NQF), expressed his “delight” that ”measure developers would be able to distribute SNOMED CT preferred terms and concept IDs in measure specifications, further providing the breadth of expression available in SNOMED CT into clinical care workflow.”

Douglas Fridsma, MD, Ph.D, Director of ONC’s Office of Standards and Interoperability, commented that “In addition to its beneficial effect on the definition of quality measures, the SNOMED CT “public good” policy should enable tighter alignment between clinical vocabulary and messaging standards. With this step, the IHTSDO and the NLM are making an important contribution toward advancing meaningful use and the quality of care received by US citizens.”

"We are gratified by the enthusiastic early response to our new policy,” said Jan-Eric Slot, CEO of the IHTSDO. “We anticipate additional requests for similar uses that will provide a key driver for advancing interoperable exchange of health data."

The new IHTSDO policy enables free use of English-language SNOMED CT terms and identifiers in international research databases, complementary health IT standards, performance measures, and other projects and resources available worldwide. If you are interested in using SNOMED CT names and identifiers for a public good purpose, send a message to ceo@ihtsdo.org for information on how to proceed. Access to the complete international release of SNOMED CT (which includes hierarchical, definitional, and mapping relationships as well as translations) will continue to require an IHTSDO Affiliate License. The Affiliate License permits use of SNOMED CT that is free in IHTSDO Member countries such as the United States, and in the more than 50 countries designated as low-income by the World Bank, as well as by approved research projects. Fees apply for regular use in other countries.