Often, when I make a presentation to healthcare executives and lab people, I’m struck by the level of unfamiliarity regarding the Logical Observation Identifier Names and Codes (LOINC®). It is not that all are unfamiliar with it; lab directors and some managers and medical technologists are familiar but, overall, most are not. This is a telling fact about the state of our preparedness for data sharing, coordinated care, and advanced analytics. As a further example, a group of senators recently sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requesting a re-evaluation and “reboot” of the Meaningful Use (MU) program citing, among other things, concerns regarding the program’s ability to achieve meaningful interoperability. LOINC® is part of the solution.
LOINC®: The Cornerstone for Interoperability
The cornerstone of interoperability is the use of standardized data structure and coding schemes. Since clinical laboratory data comprise the bulk of an individual’s medical record and are essential for healthcare decision making, one would expect it to be prominently featured in all interoperability discussions. In the realm of clinical laboratory data exchange, specifically for lab results, two standards come to mind immediately:
While both are mentioned in MU regulations and the accompanying Office of National Coordinator (ONC) standards documents, they are not widely recognized as critical for interoperability progress – but they are!
The History of LOINC®
The Logical Observation Identifier Names and Codes (LOINC®) system was created in 1994 at the Regenstrief Institute, associated with Indiana University. Initially focused on laboratory observations (all laboratory categories and Veterinary Medicine), it has also expanded to include other clinical observations made on patients.
- LOINC® has been endorsed by the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA) and the College of American Pathologists (CAP).
- It has been adopted for test reporting by large commercial labs such as Quest, LabCorp, Mayo Medical Laboratories, and MDS Labs; large HMOs including Kaiser Permanente and Aetna; governmental organizations including the CDC, DOD, VA, and NLM.
- Internationally, LOINC® has been adopted as a national standard in many countries, including the United States, and has been translated into many languages.
Interoperability has two cornerstones:
- standardized structure
- standardized content.
LOINC® was created to solve the problem of laboratory data interoperability by promoting standardized content. To date, most labs use proprietary order and results codes. In the past, when results were manually transported or faxed, standardization was not an issue. However, in our emerging electronic healthcare setting without content standardization there is no interoperability. LOINC® mapping can help.
Facts about LOINC®:
- LOINC® is the “new” standard for lab results and lab orders
- It is critical for Meaningful Use
- It can me key to the success of independent and hospital labs
- LOINC® is large and complex – Test dictionary builds and LOINC® mapping are specialty skills that require lab and LIS expertise as well as LOINC® expertise.
The prudent approach by hospital and independent labs is to be proactive and prepare while there is still time. That is why my colleague, Halfpenny Technologies Clinical Data Specialist Jane A. Burke BSMT (ASCP) and I have co-written a white paper positioning LOINC® with respect to care coordination, meaningful interoperability, the exchange of actionable data, and supporting shared savings models. We hope that this white paper entitled, Supporting Shared Savings Models, Care Coordination and the Actionable Exchange of Lab Data with LOINC®, provides the foundation for LOINC® knowledge and offers you the important questions you need to ask regarding LOINC® mapping and test dictionary creation for your organization.
Find a LOINC® Mapping Expert
For those that conclude that they do not have the skill set and/or the infrastructure to support LOINC®, alternatives do exist and should be examined. Most LIS vendors do not offer such services to support their software systems and most labs are left to fend for themselves. However, some third-party vendors offer services for the initial dictionary build, LOINC® mapping, ongoing maintenance, as well as, middleware solutions that can bridge the gap in current capabilities of existing LISs.
Being able to positively answer the above questions or, at least, have a roadmap to achieve them within the first year of the start of MU stage 2 (2014), will prepare the lab for the realities of providing clinical services to physicians in the era of accountable care.
For more information, on LOINC® Mapping and Test Dictionary builds, please contact Halfpenny Technologies at 855-277-9100 or visit us online at http://www.halfpenny.com.
Chief Medical Information Officer
*LOINC is a registered United States trademark of Regenstrief Institute, Inc.