SNOMED CT: The Secret Tool for Smarter General Practice

Faced with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, significant staff shortages, and an increasingly complex patient population, the challenges of modern general practice are vast. To become more efficient while improving the quality and safety of care, we need to tap into the potential of innovative tools. One such tool is SNOMED CT (Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine — Clinical Terms), a comprehensive clinical terminology system that is yet to be fully leveraged by many practices (Roberts, L., 2023).

Demystifying SNOMED CT

Mandated for use in the UK, SNOMED CT supports the standardised recording and encoding of patient information, including diagnoses, procedures, and medications. It is designed to be compatible with any electronic health record system, and features ‘concepts’ (like ‘195967001 |Asthma (disorder)|’) that each represent a clinical entity with a unique code and a series of descriptions.

But SNOMED CT is more than just a catalogue of codes and descriptions – it’s a computer-processable ontology. Every concept has a computer-understandable meaning called a logical definition, enabling them to be linked via parent-child relationships and other defining characteristics. As computers can process these definitions, their power can be harnessed to support clinical and operational decision making.

Harnessing the Benefits

So how does SNOMED CT help us work smarter, not harder? For one, its in-house use can avoid the costs and dependencies associated with third-party products and consultancies. But the true value of SNOMED CT lies in its myriad applications, which include:

  • Creation of high-quality, reusable data: With SNOMED CT, clinical staff can document and code relevant information in a universally understood format, resulting in structured, instantly usable, high-quality data. This can be reused across various use cases like national reporting, clinical audit, risk evaluation, and finance.
  • Automation of reporting and cohort identification: Thanks to SNOMED CT’s ‘query’ mechanism, clinicians can quickly and accurately define and identify relevant patient cohorts for audit, reporting, and billing. The data generated is also robust enough to support predictive and prescriptive analytics, key to the growing movement towards preventative and individualised medicine.
  • Reliable data sharing: SNOMED CT enables unambiguous and seamless sharing of health data between different care providers, using commonplace data technologies and infrastructure. This data transfer can reduce time spent on administrative processes and enhance the continuity of care. Shared data can also help identify hidden populations, thereby preventing adverse outcomes.

Empowering Practices with SNOMED CT

It’s a national priority to raise awareness of the importance and uses of SNOMED CT. SNOMED International offers valuable resources and training courses catering to varying levels of understanding and needs. Quick wins can be achieved by using SNOMED CT to automate data processes and support data reuse for clinical audit, reporting, and analytical activities.

Engagement with clinical partners and relevant third parties is vital for moving towards meaningful and reliable data sharing, as is working closely with your health record provider. Successful data sharing can result in substantial improvements in quality, safety, and productivity.

As general practices grapple with mounting challenges, the role of SNOMED CT becomes even more crucial. By fully harnessing its capabilities, we can drive smarter healthcare solutions and better patient outcomes.

Reference: Roberts, L. (2023). SNOMED CT: working smarter, not harder. British Journal of General Practice, 73(727), 77. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp23X731901

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