The National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) has licensed software from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to aid the move to a standardised dictionary of clinical terms as part of the Federal Government’s Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) project.
The $467 million project involves the establishment of a PCEHR system that encompasses patient health summaries which both patients and their healthcare providers can access by 1 July 2012.
Australian e-Health Research Centre (AEHRC) chief executive, David Hansen, told Computerworld Australia that the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) and NEHTA would soon require healthcare software vendors to make the transition to SNOMED CT, a clinical terminology which encompasses a group of terms that would underpin the PCEHR going forward.
“Whenever there’s a problem, a diagnosis or a clinical description that’s needed to be put in our electronic health records, clinicians, whether they know it or not because it’s in the software, will be picking a term from the SNOMED CT vocabulary,” Hansen said.
NEHTA adopted SNOMED CT about five years ago when they started standardising electronic health information, but usage is still quite low, Hansen said.
CSIRO will provide a free download of the software, called Snapper, which was developed at the AEHRC – a joint venture between CSIRO and the Queensland Government – from November 2011 until 30 June 2013 to support software companies and healthcare providers in making the move.
“Most existing electronic systems do not use the SNOMED CT dictionary, but a mix of existing standard and local data dictionaries. The Snapper tool will help to translate terms in the existing system to terms from SNOMED CT,” Hansen said.
“The Snapper tool will enable information captured in an emergency department computer system to be understood by the computer systems used for hospital in-patients, and again by GP computer systems once the patient has been discharged.
“It will also help with the maintenance as SNOMED is released every six months and help them know which terms they might want to add and so on.”
The Java-based software, compatible with PCs, Macs and Linux, is standalone and while SNOMED CT comes as part of the package, Hansen said, users will be able to update automatically in the future.
According to Hansen, the software contains multiple parts, one of which is a search function which can be used to search for specific terms and the software will provide a populated list along with an autocomplete function.
“Term sets might have a couple of thousand terms and converting those to SNOMED has traditionally been a case of searching in a browser [and] copying it to a spread sheet, whereas this contains the help for you to do and then you can go through each one and check that you’re happy or look for a better term.”
NEHTA head of policy and information services, Bettina McMahon, said having a single language for clinical terms was a necessary standard in order for healthcare systems to effectively talk to each other, but stresses the need to support software vendors in the transition.
“The CSIRO Snapper software will enable a huge leap forward in getting all the computer systems involved in our healthcare system to talk to each other in the same language,” she said.
“Licensing Snapper to NEHTA creates a pathway to adoption for state health departments, health IT software vendors and other health providers moving to electronic health record systems.”
The DoHA and NEHTA have yet to finalise negotiations for the most recent round of funding for the project, which will support the management of delivery partners to complete the build of the system, the implementation of strategies for change and take-up of the PCEHR, and to support the e-health sites in implementing and testing aspects of e-health record.
NEHTA also released its final Specifications and Standards Plan for the project, confirming it would abolish the current development strategy in favour of the establishment of five “tiger teams" or groups of experts assigned to examine particular problems associated with the project.
Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW
Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.