Clinical coding has never been the most exciting topic in healthcare. It’s unlikely to attract too many people as the after-dinner speech of choice.
Yet there’s a much more interesting truth. Coding isn’t an end in itself, but a means to the realisation of a health service that’s better for patients and more efficient for services themselves.
The ‘Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine Clinical Terms’, or SNOMED-CT, has been selected for use as the terminology within the NHS in England. Now in use in more than 50 countries around the world, it is the most comprehensive international terminology currently available and addresses many of the challenges of a modern and varied care environment. Coded information offers so many benefits to the health service that it’s impossible to ignore the argument. From effective clinical notation, through identification and tracking of patients for research, for quality and service management purposes and payment for activity, accurate coding provides the tools.
At the heart of this benefit is the concept that information must be portable and capable of being used for purposes other than those for which it was gathered. “Re-purposing”, to use the jargon. It’s an often heralded vision, but has proved elusive as a practical reality. Yet modern healthcare IT is closer than ever to realising the potential.
As we move to towards the vision of integrated care records with information following the patient, it is vital that software doesn’t impose limitations on the range of settings where patients may be treated. Information must be consistent and transferable within and across all the healthcare settings and capable of use in new and often combined ways.
Software vendors who implement coding standards within their products offer health services a better deal. Clinical information is captured, presented and stored consistently and accessibly and – most importantly – is no longer confined to the original software solution itself. Coded information can be re-used in a wide range of contexts, and combined with other (perhaps unrelated) data captured by other specialty systems.
Coding also offers another benefit to health services facing the realities of dwindling resources and challenging demographics. Data captured by modern coded IT not only provides benefits today, but it provides a platform for the future. Costly and laborious “data migration” exercises are greatly reduced or eliminated, and future software purchases can utilise the data with greater ease.
Whilst coding may never be the most engaging topic round the table, the benefits and value that good, coded, clinical software can offer are far more exciting.