HHS launches two health data standards efforts

The Health and Human Services Department will license a medical vocabulary system from the College of American Pathologists as a step toward establishing a common medical language.

HHS secretary Tommy Thompson today announced the license, along with a plan to have the Institute of Medicine design a standard electronic health record. The new standard tools will be ready next year, he said.

HHS will make both the medical definitions system and the standard electronic health record available free to the nation's health care providers and carriers.

The two projects are part of HHS' effort to develop a national health information infrastructure.

'We want to build a standardized platform on which physicians' offices, insurance companies, hospitals and others can all communicate electronically," Thompson said.

The use of standard elements will reduce medical errors and costs, he said.

The pathology college's system, with 340,000 medical concepts, is a leading clinical terminology database. Health care participants will be able to incorporate the uniform terminology system into their own information systems.

"This system will prove invaluable in facilitating the automated exchange of clinical information needed to protect patient safety, detect emerging public health threats, better coordinate patient care and compile research data for patients participating in clinical trials," Thompson said.

The National Library of Medicine, part of HHS' National Institutes of Health, negotiated a five-year, $32.4 million license for permanent use of their Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine terminology, known as the Snomed Clinical Terms.

The core database is in both English and Spanish and will is updated regularly. The Veterans Affairs and Defense departments will share the cost with HHS.

"Putting health information standards in the public domain and promptly adopting health information standards for the federal health partners, is the tipping point for national standards that strengthen our electronic health record systems," VA secretary Anthony Principi said.

The National Library of Medicine will distribute Snomed through its Unified Medical Language System, which distributes in a common format biomedical and health vocabularies and classifications.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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