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Secret Diary of a Practice Manager: Will SNOMED Leave Practices on Thin Ice?

In May this year, FPM published an article asking if we were all ready for SNOMED CT (Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine - Clinical Terms) to become the single clinical terminology across the whole of the NHS. So – just how prepared are we?

At the moment we have the Read Code system, started back in the 1980s by Dr James Read (hence the name ‘Read Code’), which has been used and developed in healthcare - but with different versions in use across the wide spectrum of the NHS.

Over the past 36 years, the number of medical conditions that need coding has increased dramatically and with the greater mobility of the global population it has become necessary to look at a universal coding system. SNOMED will not only be used in the NHS, but in clinical settings across the world. This will lead to clearer records and enhance understanding of patients’ conditions all around the UK and from across the planet.

In order to achieve this, plans have been made to put deadlines in place here in the UK to ensure every part of the NHS is using only the SNOMED coding by 2020.

Depending on what you read, the plan is to have primary care leading on this, with clinical systems to be SNOMED compliant by April 2018 - and yet other papers I have seen have said it should have been April 2015. On my practice’s clinical system, some changes can already be seen in the coding… however there is still much confusion.

Having read the FPM article I was surprised and worried that I had not really heard very much about this change and had made no contingency plans to be knowledgeable as to how we would use the new system. As a result, we felt we were certainly not confident of being ready for the switch.

So I started to ask some questions. Firstly, I talked to some of our staff who also worked at other surgeries and at the OOH to see what they knew about it, how it would differ from the old Read Codes, whether we need training, what would be the date of the change… They knew little more than me, so I asked fellow managers and the answers were again very vague.

I really shouldn’t be surprised: organisation and communication are never the strongest points within the NHS and I am sure the dates proposed will slip by again and it will be years late in being brought in and - of course - be way over budget.

Despite all this, I think it is an excellent idea to have a universal system for recording medical conditions that can save time and create ongoing benefits in the treatment of patients from across the world.

I feel however that we are unlikely to have access to medical records from people outside of the UK, so the benefits may not be that great. On the other hand, I think we should now be given access to records of everyone across the world for just this eventuality! Let’s get started on this right away. It should be up and running by 2060 - and way over budget. Nice to dream about, but certainly not a reality!

A short history of SNOMED

Keep an eye out for further coverage on the switch to SNOMED at First Practice Management, as well as in-depth guidance and resources on all of the latest issues affecting primary care on the FPM blog.


Comments

Matthew Wright 27/07/2016

Test comment

Helen Murray 27/07/2016

In EMIS Web all of the Read Codes are already mapped to SNOMED and you can already swap between the two in the Code Browser. However, I am not sure if this is the case for any of the other clinical systems.

Kay Ellermeyer 25/07/2016

I have a GP that knows all the READ codes she needs in her head - will there be clinical system mapping from READ to SNOMED or is she likely to be sent bonkers by the change?


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