VA and DOD pick common medical vocabulary for electronic records

The Veterans Affairs and Defense departments have partnered with 3M Co. to adopt a common vocabulary of terms and a structured data system for their joint digital health record under development, the company announced May 16.

Under a mutual agreement, the VA and DOD have adopted 3M’s Healthcare Data Dictionary of thousands of medical terms and concepts, and 3M has agreed to freely distribute an open source version of its data dictionary.

According to 3M, the data dictionary is the most comprehensive available and has been used for more than 20 years. It is a structured data system that translates clinical and administrative data into more than 170,000 coded medical concepts.

The agreement between VA, DOD and 3M is expected to create semantic interoperability for the joint VA-DOD electronic health record. It also is expected to spur innovation and competition by offering free access to vendors, as well as to hospitals, physicians, health systems, insurers and public health agencies around the world. In the past, most users had to pay a licensing fee to obtain access to the data dictionary.

"This agreement will accelerate Electronic Health Record adoption across the industry and help achieve a common language for health care," Dr. Hon Pak, former chief information officer for the U.S. Army Medical Department, said in a news release. "We'll be able to access meaningful data, analyze it, and deliver it back to clinicians to help them make better decisions for their patients. The Health Data Dictionary makes this possible in ways no other product or service can."

On the other hand, entities that currently use or own other medical data dictionaries presumably would have to switch to the 3M system in order to be interoperable with the VA and DOD joint record.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Sun, May 20, 2012

A data dictionary? What a concept! Back in the stone age mainframe days, DOD had one of those, although enforcement was spotty at best. Given that most of VA's patients are ex-DOD, why is this even a question? The records should be standardized, and probably kept in the same secure cloud or server.

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