Standards to make healthcare share

New standards expected to make healthcare and clinical data interoperable, so information can be shared between practitioners worldwide.
Written by Lynn Tan @ Redhat, Contributor

Nascent standards in healthcare are expected to make digital healthcare and clinical data interoperable worldwide.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia last month, Dr Daniel Russler, vice president of clinical informatics at Oracle, said many countries are now identifying a standard for patients and healthcare consumers who have documented personal health record. These documents frequently comprise information from diverse medical sources, such as doctors, hospitals and laboratories, Russler said.

Standards in healthcare such as the HL7 (Health Level 7) version 3 (v3), will automate the translation of data recorded in one language into another language, he explained. Russler, who is also a director at the HL7 organization, has played a key role in the development of the HL7 V3.

A global community of healthcare specialists and information scientists, the HL7 organization aims to create standards--including HL7--to aid in the exchange, management and integration of electronic data between information systems that implement healthcare applications.

For instance, information recorded in English by an English-speaking healthcare provider can leverage on these healthcare standards and have the data translated into the Chinese language, which can then be read and understood by a Chinese-speaking patient, he explained.

Russler said: "It's so frequent that you have people [who don't speak the language of the healthcare provider] being treated by someone who speaks English or a different language."

He added that this is increasingly commonplace in Singapore where many foreign patients travel from overseas such as Indonesia and Thailand, to the island-state to seek medical treatment.

In these scenarios, the best healthcare can be provided when medical records created in Singapore can also be read by the patient's doctor when he returns to his country, regardless of the difference in language.

"That is part of the dream of clinical informatics--the globalization of medical information, because healthcare is globalizing," Russler said. "Patients [are more comfortable speaking in] their own language and shouldn't be forced to learn the language of the healthcare professional."

Instead, healthcare information systems should "speak the language of the patient", he said.

Caring under a common language
According to Russler, Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine (SNOMED) is emerging as a terminology standard in medical languages that is being adopted by many countries.

For instance, medical information created on SNOMED and in English, can be easily translated by healthcare computer systems into the Spanish language.

SNOMED is driven by SNOMED International, a division of the College of American Pathologists (CAP), and currently provides full support for translations between English and Spanish languages and partial support for translation from English language into French language.

Russler said the aim is now to extend the support to the Chinese and Japanese [languages]. He added that SNOMED International is now working with the Canadian government, which already uses SNOMED, to develop a more up-to-date French version of the standard.

By enhancing language support, he hopes the standard can help drive clinical informatics and improve the way doctors and patients discuss healthcare-related information.

According to Russler, the coding structures of SNOMED are supported in Oracle systems, and "as the translation capabilities of [SNOMED] evolve, medical records stored in [an Oracle system] will be available in multiple languages, depending on where those patients travel, their native languages and the native languages of their [healthcare] providers".

"It's a very exciting aspect of globalization in healthcare," he said, adding that this will also have "implications for some of the concerns that affect all of us now", including last year's avian influenza (bird flu) and tuberculosis.

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