Out with Read Codes, in with SNOWMED Codes | QCS

Out with Read Codes, in with SNOWMED Codes

Dementia Care
January 18, 2017

Out with Read Codes, in with SNOWMED Codes

In November 2016, NHS digital website reported:

A common vocabulary to reduce GP burden and improve patient care

We are changing from inputting Read Codes to using SNOWMED codes.

When we see or hear reference to ‘reduce GP burden’, what do we really think of?…

Do we think, ‘here we go again, more change… more new things to learn…’  or do we really look ahead and see that it will reduce GP burden?

An example of how this can save time:

NHS digital say:

SNOMED CT will remove the need for manual Read Codes input when structured electronic documents are received, which mitigates against data entry errors and drives business efficiency.

Integrating SNOMED CT in general practices will save thousands of hours of effort and potentially millions of pounds worth of clinical time each year simply by being able to directly bring items such as A&E episode information into patient records in the GP system.

This alone can tell you that it will save time.

I have listed the other long term benefits from NHS digital at the bottom of this page.

NHS digital explains what SNOWMED is and when Read Codes will be phased out:

A programme of work is underway to introduce a single vocabulary for patient records to help drive primary care efficiencies and improve patient care.

SNOMED Clinical Terms (SNOMED CT) enables items such as diagnoses, symptoms, drugs and medical devices to be captured on records in a clear, unambiguous and consistent way. The terminology replaces ‘Read Codes’, which are due to be phased out by April 2018.

So, what do we need to do in our practices?

  1. Stop calling it ‘readcoding’ and call it ‘snowcoding’ (snowcoding sounds better anyway, right?)
  2. Encourage our staff to use the new SNOWMED codes and ensure they have sufficient training. We are working in a moving environment and this will always be the case in general practice. The only way to succeed is to keep up with the constant change and adapt. Don’t get caught by ‘change fatigue’ syndrome – instead, embrace it.  This change means wearing your ‘training hat’ (which I am sure you have sitting in your bottom drawer amongst many others!)  It’s all change for the staff and doctors who note summarise and read code clinical letters; they may have read codes logged in their head after years of use, or a sticky note on their computer as an aid memoir.
  3. Computers will be updated by your system supplier and NHS digital have put on webinar training for staff. (More about this below).

NHS digital wrote:

SNOMED CT is the only current information standard for clinical terminology and must be adopted by all GPs and systems used by general practice service providers before 1 April 2018; Whether we – and our staff – like it or not, it is a ‘must’.

NHS digital has put on webinar training.

The training is titled ‘Introducing SNOMED CT in General Practice’

This webinar provides a basic understanding for SNOMED CT for those who currently use the Read Codes. It illustrates the basics of SNOMED CT, the difference between SNOMED CT and Read, as well as providing hints and tips on code selection.

I have listed the dates that the training is available on and the website below for more information.

Webinar training is available on these dates:

Log on to this website for more information on the webinar training:


Other long-term benefits of introducing SNOWMED into general practices:

  • Improved interoperability – SNOMED CT enables data to be exchanged easily between IT systems in different clinical and care settings. This interoperability means that health and care data will be in a form that care sectors can share and different systems can process when appropriate – supporting the seamless care of patients even when delivered by multiple providers.
  •  Comprehensive coverage – SNOMED CT offers a greater depth of detail and content for all clinical specialities and professions.
  •  A global voice – SNOMED CT is a multilingual solution used in over 50 countries, meaning the UK can benefit from a wider range of healthcare solutions.
  •  Modern technology – SNOMED CT has evolved based on the experience of previous terminologies while embracing the technology of today.
  •  Enhanced data analysis – SNOMED CT facilitates a range of analysis techniques to support more extensive clinical audit and research work.

Beverley Bryant, Director of Digital Transformation at NHS Digital, which is leading the implementation, said:

“A common clinical language across care settings underpins a more effective and safer healthcare system, and being able to facilitate this is essential to the future plans of the NHS.

“The accurate transmission of information from GP surgeries to specialists, from nurses to doctors, and from care workers to doctors is central to good medical practice.”

Arvind Madan, clinical lead for primary care at NHS England, added:

“SNOMED CT allows the electronic transmission of information between any part of the health system. The terms are easy for clinicians to use and can be just as easily understood by patients and their families.

“This transitional work will ensure a standard way of transmitting information about patients and I hope that all clinicians will accelerate the use of this terminology for the benefit of the patients we care for.”

A notice under the Health and Social Care Act has now been published outlining the implementation dates for general practices and other providers to adopt SNOMED CT.

Information standard

SNOMED CT is the information standard for clinical terminology. It has been declared as the required terminology to support direct management of care within the policy document published by the National Information Board (NIB) ‘Personalised Health and Care 2020: A Framework for Action

This information standard is published under section 250 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

An Information Standards Notice provides an overview of scope and implementation timescales and the other listed documents provide further detail for those who have to implement the information standard.







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Michelle Broutta

GP Specialist


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