SNOMED CT Article Published – Journal of AHIMA

Michael Stearns, MD coauthored an article that was published in the Journal of AHIMA in November 2014 that compares ICD-10-CM to SNOMED CT.

A link to the article is available here (scroll down to “What’s the Difference” and you can go directly to the full article with AHIMA log in credentials):

What’s the Difference?  SNOMED CT and ICD Systems are Suited for Different Purposes.

AHIMA membership is required to view the article.  A brief summary is included here:

The International Classification of Diseases versions 9 and 10, and SNOMED CT both use alphanumeric codes associated with clinical concepts.  However, they differ in their purpose and structure. This article reviews the history of each terminology, their differences and approaches to data capture, and intended use.  It also provides several examples of ICD-10 and SNOMED CT codes that illustrate how information can be codified using the two terminologies.

SNOMED CT has been challenging to implement in electronic health records and other systems due to its size and somewhat complicated structure.  However, as information systems and health information technology applications improve, the need for very granular and accurate data has steadily risen.  The information generated by most healthcare systems does not have significant value to healthcare operations and clinical research due to a lack of structure and specificity.  A gradual increase in the use of a standard terminology such as SNOMED CT that provides specific codes that uniquely identify concepts and provide surrounding contextual information has the potential to markedly improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare, and to facilitate clinical research.

Regarding the future of ICD, ICD-11 is being updated by the WHO to allow it to be compatible with advances in health information technology, which includes  by report will include incorporation of some of the fundamental principles of SNOMED CT.  For example, the ICD-11 FAQ website addresses several issues, including the following information:

Why is the ICD being revised?

The ICD is being revised to better reflect progress in health sciences and medical practice. In line with advances in information technology, ICD-11 will be used with electronic health applications and information systems.

What are features of this revision? (selected bullet)

  • Definitions, signs and symptoms, and other content related to diseases will be defined in a structured way so they can be recorded more accurately. ICD-11 will be compatible with electronic health applications and information systems.

For reprint requests please contact Dr. Michael Stearns at


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