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European Union drives use of standardized terminology in Member States with funding for SNOMED CT

March 2, 2022

At the end of 2021, the European Health and Digital Executive Agency took a firm step towards increasing the semantic interoperability, re-use and the cross border exchange of health data. The European Union will provide its Member States with 60 per cent funding towards SNOMED International membership until 2027, via the European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA). The goal of this initiative is to allow the residents of participating member states to easily access and share their own health data in their own language with healthcare providers as they travel in the European Union.

According to the European Commission, the objective of the agreement is to facilitate the use of a standardized terminology to express clinical meanings for clinicians and to benefit the citizens of the European Union. 

An important step toward building stronger, more resilient and accessible health systems, it also attempts to better manage the fragmentation and vulnerabilities of disparate health systems that were revealed throughout the COVID-19 crisis, noted SNOMED CT Expo 2021 Keynote Speaker Dr Andrzej Ryś, Director responsible for Health Systems, Medical Products and Innovation at the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, European Commission. “There is currently a fragmentation of standards used to express clinical concepts, which hampers the semantic interoperability of health data sharing and the ability of the European health data space from reaching its full potential,” Dr.Ryś shared with the SNOMED CT Expo 2021 audience.

One of the benefits cited in the agreement is SNOMED International’s approach to translation. Currently, entire or part translations of SNOMED CT are available in a number of languages and dialects, including United States English, United Kingdom English, Australian English, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Lithuanian, Swedish and French. Translations in other SNOMED International Member countries and elsewhere are also in progress. Germany, which also became a Member in 2021, has formed a working group that includes Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg to launch a joint German-language reference translation of SNOMED CT. SNOMED International’s translation tooling can also be used to support additional translations of SNOMED CT by Member countries/territories or groups of Members that share a common language. Ahead of formal membership by France, a collaborative group formed of representatives from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Canada are working to develop a global French translation of SNOMED CT.

SNOMED International CEO Don Sweete hails the agreement as a creative and effective approach to encouraging the adoption of a common health terminology across a diverse group of countries, each with its own language and degree of digital health readiness. “This agreement falls in line with the SNOMED CT Case for Investment, which outlines why countries invest resources in the clinical terminology and how SNOMED CT meets the clinical terminology suitability requirements of the EU community,” said Sweete. “Partnering with an organization such as the European Health and Digital Executive Agency facilitates the adoption and implementation of SNOMED CT across Europe and significantly contributes to our goal of a single global language of health and supporting patients and citizens to better manage their own health.” To bridge implementation, Sweete also notes that countries adopting SNOMED CT are supported by SNOMED International’s implementation services and resources, easing the process of adopting the clinical terminology and optimizing the benefits it offers.

Founded in 2007 by nine charter nations, which has now grown to serve 42 Members globally, SNOMED International is a not-for-profit organization that owns and maintains SNOMED CT, the world’s most comprehensive clinical terminology.  With over 350,000 concepts, SNOMED CT is not just a coding system of diagnosis. It also covers clinical findings like signs and symptoms and tens of thousands of surgical, therapeutic and diagnostic procedures. Also within the scope of SNOMED CT are observables and those concepts representing body structures, organisms, substances, pharmaceutical products, physical objects, physical forces, specimens, etc. needed to be recorded in or around the health record.

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