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Will Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine-Clinical Terms improve our understanding of the disease burden posed by allergic disorders?


Aziz Sheikh, Allergy & Respiratory Research Group, Division of Community Health Sciences, General Practice Section, University of Edinburgh, 20 West Richmond St, Edinburgh EH8 9DX, UK


Analysis of data collected through the use of high-quality computerized systems is vital if we are to understand the health burden from allergic disease. Coding systems currently used, such as the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases and the Read system, have however been criticized as being unduly restrictive and hence inadequate for the detailed coding of allergic problems. Greater granularity of coding can be achieved by using the Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine-Clinical Terms (SNOMED-CT) system, which will be adopted by several countries including the United States and United Kingdom. Before the introduction of SNOMED-CT, it is important that several issues are resolved, including ensuring that adequate mapping occurs from existing systems, that the SNOMED-CT is trialled before general implementation, and that training is provided for users new to coding as part of their clinical practice. Of particular importance is that the allergy fraternity bring to light any gaps in allergy coding through the creation of a working group to advise the newly formed International Healthcare Terminology Standards Development Organisation. There is also a role for allergy experts, working in conjunction with government agencies and professional bodies, to determine a recommended set of codes, which will obviate some of the inevitable challenges raised by a very fluid coding structure for those wishing to undertake secondary analysis of health care datasets.