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New tool makes it easy for non-SNOMED CT users to retrieve the SNOMED CT concepts associated with a given code

March 2, 2023

SNOMED International recently launched a SNOMED CT concept lookup tool to support non-SNOMED CT users. In this blog, SNOMED International Chief Information Officer Rory Davidson explains what the tool is, who it was designed for and how to use it.

Q: What is the SNOMED CT concept lookup tool?

Rory Davidson: The SNOMED CT look up tool is basically a tool to allow people the quickest and most efficient way possible to find the concept associated with a code. It's intended to be a very quick and easy-to-understand utility for people who are not SNOMED CT experts who just want to know what this code they’ve received is and what it points to. 

One of the really nice things about it is that the extensions currently hosted on the SNOMED International browser are covered by the lookup tool. It looks across all extensions and editions, not just the International Edition, so whether you are from Canada, the US, Belgium, Norway or wherever, it will actually show the concept and where it’s from, and give the translations where applicable/available.

Q: Why was it developed? And what were people doing up until now?

RD: There were two reasons to develop this tool. The first was that people typically use the SNOMED CT browser to search for this type of information, and while the browser is very popular and widely used all around the world, it's not necessarily the easiest way for novices to find the information they are seeking. The SNOMED CT browser is a bit daunting for anyone who is new to SNOMED CT, so this is why we built this simple concept lookup tool. It enables anyone to see the taxonomy on the hierarchy, and all the details that are relevant to the concept. 

The other reason was that from discussions with many European Union countries, we learned about the challenges they face in cross-border data-sharing, and while there are a number of EU countries who are Members, there are still a few who aren’t, and the licensing can be somewhat challenging to navigate when sharing data. What we’re trying to say is if you are in, say, Latvia, and you’ve received a patient record from Estonia, and it has a SNOMED CT code in it, there should be somewhere where you can quickly find out what that code refers to. It can be done via the website or a FHIR API so it’s open to everybody without them having to have a SNOMED CT licence or have SNOMED fully implemented in their system.

Q: Who is this tool going to be useful for?

RD: I see this as being that tool for people who don't use SNOMED CT. The SNOMED CT users are using their own systems or the SNOMED browser, but often there is that one  doctor or health care professional who's received a code or who has seen it in a patient record and has no idea what it is. The concept lookup tool solves that problem.

Q: How do you use it?

RD: It’s based on a search tool. You just input the code and you get the results straight away. You can go from there to the SNOMED CT browser, because there are links to it in the tool, but it’s intended to be a one-stop shop.

Q: Could you also use Google to get the same results?

RD: For some codes you do get some SNOMED CT results back in a Google search, but not the exact details – you get links to a page where that concept ID is mentioned, or sometimes it results in links to phone numbers that match the number, so it can be a bit confusing.

Q: What technology powers this tool?

RD: Behind the scenes it’s driven by SNOMED International’s Snowstorm FHIR terminology server, so users can also use FHIR with FHIR terminology services to access the information. It’s meant to be a very simple, quick and easy tool to use. 

Q: Is this something that could be used globally?

RD: Yes – Europe is just a good example because there is a lot of cross-border healthcare-related activity and there are a lot of countries using SNOMED CT in Europe, so it’s more likely someone will receive a patient record with SNOMED CT data in it in a European country. But there is no restriction globally. You could very much see it being used as well in countries such as Malaysia and Thailand where there are SNOMED CT users.

Q: Where can people find the concept lookup tool?

RD: They can visit this URL: It looks similar to a Google search page but it takes you straight to the concept.

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