When the Verifiable Clinical Information coalition (VCI) started working on SMART Health Cards in 2020, there was tremendous urgency to help communities cope with the impact of COVID-19. Subsequently, the focus shifted to empower individuals with a QR code giving them easy access to their own COVID-19 vaccination status so people could return to work, school, events, and international travel with trustworthy COVID-19 vaccination verification. At that time, agreement on COVID-19 terminology was still in its infancy, so the engineers behind SMART Health Cards had to be broad in the terminology they included in their framework. “We needed to take a kitchen-sink approach at that time,” explained Dr. Max Masnick, Digital Health Engineer at MITRE. But they knew this approach would come at a cost. “There was a burden for verifiers to have to support all of this,” noted Masnick. “We suspected that we’d eventually need to simplify.”

In fall 2021, VCI established three criteria for streamlining the SMART Health Card terminology experience:

  1. investing in a partnership that’s not constrained by licensing so the process of streamlining terminology standardization doesn’t create unnecessary expenses for SMART Health Card implementers,
  2. finding a terminology partner with strong international recognition, whose library extends to other vaccines beyond COVID-19, and
  3. reducing engineering costs for international interoperability.

One of VCI’s core design principles is interoperability because the coalition knows the future of better healthcare requires worldwide standards that engineers can rely on consistently and build solutions on more quickly. From healthcare providers and public health officials to electronic healthcare records vendors and cloud technology leaders, VCI coalition members believe in the importance of lowering costs through open, interoperable standards.

SNOMED International checked all the boxes. So, earlier this year, Dr. Masnick and his colleagues at VCI approached SNOMED International. The two organizations began collaborating to lower the barrier for verifiers and help improve international adoption of SMART Health Cards by making the SNOMED international terminology standards for Covid-19 vaccines available from the SMART Health Cards GitHub repository under a Creative Commons license.

SNOMED International’s COVID-19 vaccine terminology, publicly available on SNOMED International’s website, was released for SMART Health Cards developers in August — giving engineers everywhere the opportunity to take advantage of this technology and lowering the barrier for worldwide adoption of these equitable, privacy-preserving, open standards that help empower everyone with easy access to their health data.

VCI-Smartcard-pic1.pngSMART Health Cards contain a secure QR code and may be saved digitally or printed on paper.

“SNOMED International is a global leader in the clinical terminology space, so it was exciting when they agreed to partner with us on this effort,” said Dr. Brian Anderson, VCI Steering Committee Member and Chief Digital Health Physician, MITRE. “VCI is deeply appreciative of SNOMED International’s contribution and innovation to the ongoing development of SMART Health Cards.”

“We are pleased to have joined VCI and to be making our COVID-19 vaccine concepts publicly available to SMART Health Cards developers. The rapid adoption of SMART Health Cards during the COVID-19 pandemic was inspiring to see, and we’re looking forward to helping expand adoption by connecting SMART Health Card implementers with the existing free and open access we’ve created to this terminology via the Global Patient Set.” Don Sweete, CEO, SNOMED International.

Browser-Pic-2.pngSource: SNOMED CT Browser

VCI is a voluntary coalition of more than 1,100 public and private organizations committed to empowering individuals with access to a trustworthy and verifiable copy of their vaccination records and other clinical information. SMART Health Cards enabled more than 225 million people in the United States and millions of people worldwide to have access to their vaccination records in less than one year.

The speed of adoption was unprecedented, and the ability to help public health entities and private healthcare organizations modernize their data so quickly was an important first step. But international interoperability is an ongoing endeavor. That’s why VCI and SNOMED International are collaborating to extend access and make COVID-19 vaccine concepts publicly available on GitHub via the Creative Commons licensing approach supporting the organization’s Global Patient Set. Increasing standardization of COVID-19 vaccine clinical terms across the globe is an important building block that will ease the barrier to international adoption of SMART Health Cards and make worldwide interoperability easier to achieve.

By pairing SNOMED International’s comprehensive clinical terminology expertise with the SMART Health Card standard, this partnership serves as a model for future pandemics as well as ongoing digital health information sharing. VCI and SNOMED International organizations are committed to the use of unambiguous clinical information for safe, efficient, and effective patient care.

“This collaboration will help drive interoperability and openness globally, ensuring a safe, equitable standard like SMART Health Cards are accessible to all, irrespective of economic status,” noted Dr. Anderson. “Saving lives is our ultimate goal, and that requires making it possible for people to move across borders seamlessly while still keeping people safe. We’re pleased SNOMED International shares our commitment to protecting everyone and has joined us in this important journey.”

SNOMED International will continue its efforts to support VCI with the world’s most comprehensive clinical terminology.

Questions about this collaboration? Contact info@snomed.org 
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