LOINC and SNOMED Coding- What does it All Mean?


Posted by Leslie Colloton on June 25, 2015

Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes (LOINC) and Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine- Clinical Terms (SNOMED CT) are two popular coding standards in the Health IT (HIT) industry, specifically in medical testing. Both standards, though different, attempt to baseline the terminology used by healthcare professionals across the world in order to avoid error when handling patient data.

Brainchild of the Regenstrief Institute, a medical non-profit located in Indianapolis, LOINC was first developed in 1994 as an answer to the increasing interest of healthcare professionals for a single, electronic database to act as a comprehensive medical dictionary free of cost. Over the past 20 years, the universal code system for tests, measurements and observations has provided a common vocabulary to assist over 32,000 healthcare professionals across 162 countries to dictate patient data via electronic health records (via loinc.org).

LOINC codes are broken up in to two main parts, Laboratory and Clinical. According to the Mayo Clinic Online, health care providers are required to use LOINC codes when reportable disease results are sent to state/federal public health laboratories. As the push for Meaningful Use strengthens, LOINC coding will greatly benefit the healthcare professionals when sifting through enormous amounts of patient data.

Also available at no cost but through the National Library of Medicine, SNOMED CT is run by the International Health Terminology Standards Development Organization, or the IHTSDO. SNOMED is an encyclopedic, multilingual database of standard clinical terminology which allows for a cohesive lifetime patient data trail regardless of how many healthcare professionals make changes. This provides a high level of safety and consistency in patient care across an EHR or EMR.

SNOMED CT facilitates point of care decision support, automatic identification of patient risk factors, and monitoring of response to treatment and adverse reactions to treatment. Using SNOMED CT to encode clinical information in the patient record, computers can assist the decisions made by healthcare professionals by providing contextually relevant information at the point of care, or by providing automated alerts, reminders or checks (via ihtsdo.com). SNOMED CT has 4parts; concept codes, descriptions, relationships and reference sets

Both LOINC and SNOMED CT codes help tremendously with continuity in healthcare, especially as the use of EMR/EHRs are being mandated. Although advantageous, these coding languages require a lot of detailed work to set up. It requires a healthcare professional to locally define all of their terminology and make sure it is accurate before adding to the databases. Because of the obstacle, some healthcare professionals are hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. However, it seems that in years to come both LOINC and SNOMED CT will be the norm in the world of healthcare.

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