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What is SNOMED CT?

This 5-step briefing presents you with a high level overview of what SNOMED CT is, how it works and the benefits of use through implementation examples.


What is


  • Is the most comprehensive, multilingual clinical healthcare terminology in the world

  • Is a resource with comprehensive, scientifically validated clinical content

  • Enables consistent representation of clinical content in electronic health records

  • Is mapped to other international standards

  • Is in use in more than eighty countries

The SNOMED CT clinical terminology has unmatched depth, enabling clinicians to record data with enhanced accuracy and consistency. SNOMED CT remains a growing and evolving product made better by the Community of Practice. 

SNOMED CT supports the development of comprehensive high-quality clinical content in electronic health records. It provides a standardized way to represent clinical phrases captured by the clinician and enables automatic interpretation of these.

Released monthly, the SNOMED CT International Edition includes more than 360,000 concepts.


How does SNOMED CT work?

The SNOMED CT logical model defines the way in which each type of SNOMED CT component and derivative is related and represented.

The core component types in SNOMED CT are concepts, descriptions and relationships.


The SNOMED CT model specifies how the components can be managed in an implementation setting to meet a variety of primary and secondary uses.


Every concept represents a unique clinical meaning, which is referenced using a unique, numeric and machine readable SNOMED CT identifier. The identifier provides an unambiguous unique reference to each concept and does not have any ascribed human interpretable meaning.



A relationship represents an association between two concepts. Relationships are used to logically define the meaning of a concept in a way that can be processed by a computer. A third concept, called a relationship type (or attribute), is used to represent the meaning of the association between the source and destination concepts. There are different types of relationships available within SNOMED CT.



Descriptions are the human readable terms that are associated with clinical ideas. Each description has a description type and may be marked "preferred for use" in particular languages or dialects. A fully specified name (FSN) is a type of description which uniquely and fully captures the meaning of the clinical idea. Synonyms are descriptions that allow the same concept to be expressed in different ways, each of which are associated with the same concept ID.


How is SNOMED CT used?


SNOMED CT itself is only a part of the solution to addressing the requirements for effective electronic health records. A terminology on its own 'does nothing'. To benefit from use of a clinical terminology, it must be implemented and used as part of an application.

The design of the software application in which it is used, and the objectives and motivation of its users, are key factors in determining success.

SNOMED CT is critical for clinical documentation, as it supports the representation of detailed clinical information in a way that can be processed automatically.

Realization of the capability of SNOMED CT to support clinical information and meaning based retrieval requires careful consideration of the actual setting, in terms of scope of use, record structure, data entry, data retrieval and communication.

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SNOMED CT based clinical information benefits individual patients and clinicians as well as populations while supporting evidence-based care.

The use of an electronic health record improves communication and increases the availability of relevant information. If clinical information is stored in ways that allow meaning-based retrieval, the benefits are greatly increased. 

The added benefits range from increased opportunities for real time decision support to more accurate retrospective reporting for research and management.


Benefits to individuals

SNOMED CT enabled clinical health records benefit individuals by:

  • Enabling clinical information to be recorded consistently

  • Enabling support systems to check the record and provide real-time advice

  • Supporting the sharing of appropriate information with others involved in delivering care, allowing the understanding of the information in a common way by all providers

  • Allowing accurate and comprehensive analysis that identifies patients who require follow-up or changes of treatment

  • Removing language barriers – SNOMED CT enables multilingual use

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Benefits to populations

SNOMED CT enabled clinical health records benefit populations by:

  • Facilitating early identification of emerging health issues, monitoring of population health and responses to changing clinical practices.

  • Enabling accurate and targeted access to relevant information, reducing costly duplications and errors.

  • Enabling the delivery of relevant data to support clinical research and contribute evidence for future improvements in treatment.

  • Enhancing audits of care delivery with options for detailed analysis of clinical records to investigate outliers and exceptions.


Supporting evidence-based healthcare

SNOMED CT enabled clinical health records support evidence-based care by:

  • Enabling links between clinical records and enhanced clinical guidelines and protocols.

  • Enhancing the quality of care experienced by individuals.

  • Reducing costs of inappropriate and duplicative testing and treatment, limiting the frequency and impact of adverse healthcare events.

  • Raising the cost-effectiveness and quality of care delivered to populations.

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Implementation examples


SNOMED CT in Biobank Networks


Capturing real time, post operative patient information through synoptic reporting...


Implementing a single EHR system across different hospital sites...


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