SNOMED codes

Dementia Care
May 7, 2021

Many practice managers will be scratching their heads as there has been very little information made available regarding SNOMED CT. Due to the Pandemic it has been postponed several times and the BDA lobbied for it to be delayed from April 2020 and there has been a further extension until August 31st 2021.

What is SNOMED CT?

It is currently a mandatory requirement for NHS contracted practices to comply, however it is still unknown how this will affect private practices in the future.

SNOMED CT is a structured clinical vocabulary for use in electronic health records which aims to standardise the codes attached to each medical/dental/clinical procedure, diagnosis and finding. It is a clinical vocabulary readable by computers already used in general medical practices and will be the required standard across the NHS.

Used in electronic health records, SNOMED CT is the most comprehensive and precise terminology product in the world, with extensive adoption across the globe.

Why do we need SNOMED CT?

SNOMED CT gives clinical IT systems a single shared language, which makes exchanging information between systems easier, safer, and more accurate. It contains all the clinical terms needed for the whole NHS, from procedures and symptoms through to clinical measurements, diagnoses, and medications.

SNOMED CT offers the opportunity for health records to be more universally available and understood without the need for language translation. It will capture epidemiological data and can be used across wider geographic areas. Standardising records using SNOMED CT will also support a change to integrated and interoperable health records in England (medical and dental records in England are currently separate).

When does this come into effect?

The deadline for compliance with the use of SNOMED CT terminology for capturing clinical terms within electronic dental patient record systems has been extended by four months.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care, Jo Churchill, has agreed to a postponement of full compliance for practices in England to no later than 31 August 2021, in light of the current challenges of COVID-19.

What do you need to do?

All NHS healthcare providers in England must now use SNOMED CT for capturing clinical terms within electronic patient record systems.

All practices in England that hold an NHS contract, and any provider that interacts with the NHS for the provision of a course of treatment, will need to ensure that their practice management systems comply.

You will need to speak to your dental software provider to establish how they have implemented SNOMED CT codes into their software. Some may have an automatic upgrade that already have the codes impregnated into their data capture and others may require you to manually enter the correct codes.

What does the BDA have to say regarding SNOMED CT?

On 29 March 2021, the BDA said:

“Following our calls to the Health Minister, Jo Churchill has indicated that the government will consider postponing full compliance of SNOMED CT to after 31 August 2021.

SNOMED CT is a system that aims to ensure better interoperability between health services for patients, by ensuring clinical notes are coded in a standardised way. All clinicians will be expected to use the new systems and it may cause increased bureaucracy for dentists – this is an issue that we have repeatedly sought assurance on.

The planned implementation of SNOMED CT was originally set for 1 April 2021. We expressed grave concerns that the systems in place for its use in dental practices are not sufficiently robust at present to ensure patient safety a smooth rollout that won’t impact on time spent with patients.

We have requested a later further rollout date of 1 April 2022 and are also seeking urgent clarity on outstanding issues such as: the exact code sets that will be required, whether there is a need for rebase charting and how private practices may be affected.

The Department has said during the next few months suppliers and practitioners should actively work to implement the terminology by their August deadline.

Our Chair, Eddie Crouch, has stated: “We all recognise the benefits SNOMED will bring in establishing interoperable patient records. This will enhance patient safety, support integration, and provide far richer public health data.

However, we have been clear that flawed implementation at this stage would make the realisation of these benefits more difficult in the long term and this news will be a relief for dentists. Postponement is vital, so clinicians can be confident that they can act in the best interests of their patients.”

So what should I do right now?

My advice would be to get ahead of the game now and be prepared for the changes to come. Do this by linking in with your software providers and being aware of the changes that will take place. Further information from NHSBSA can be found here.


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