The International Health Terminology Standards Development Organisation (IHTSDO) has launched a campaign to build an essential health terminology toolset to improve access to the tools needed to develop, maintain, and use SNOMED CT in health systems around the world.

The effort is part of an Open Health Tools Charter Project jointly sponsored by IHTSDO, the NHS and Australia’s National e-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA).

The IHTSDO’s chief executive, Jennifer Zelmer, told E-Health Insider: "By working with partners from around the world, IHTSDO hopes to increase access to standards-based solutions that enable the safe exchange of health information in a privacy-sensitive manner.

“Our aim is to have a toolset which any country can use to help develop and maintain terminology. It will take into account everything from mapping to translation, providing a unique way for everyone to be able to do the same thing, using their own native methods.”

The IHTSDO is seeking proposals for the supply and maintenance of a SNOMED CT multi-lingual modular workbench that will host terminology editing, translation, mapping, and other applications. Open Health Tools (OHT) is managing this process on behalf of the organisation.

Nine countries – Australia, Canada, Denmark, Lithuania, Sweden, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States – are supporting the on-going development and maintenance of SNOMED CT and related standards. They are sharing the costs on a sliding scale based on national income and making the standards freely available in their jurisdictions.

The IHTSDO has also announced that software developers who are building open source tools using SNOMED CT through an OHT Charter Project can now access the terminology at no cost. Software will be freely available to anyone, anywhere, under a commercially friendly open source license (the Eclipse Public License).

Health service organisations and software companies will be able to use the OHT technology to build products and systems that will interoperate with other OHT-based products to facilitate information exchange.

"The challenge for a standards development organization such as the IHTSDO is to encourage the widespread adoption of its standards within the health sector,” said Karen Gibson, deputy chair of IHTSDO and chair of its technical committee.

“OHT provides an opportunity to engage with the software development community to accelerate this uptake by developing open source tools and component libraries which meet their needs and those of IHTSDO members.”

Zelmer added: “The aim is to have interoperable systems in use worldwide, all using the same standards, so that all different countries can work together from all sides of the world – from the UK to the US to Singapore. Despite the language barriers, they can all use the same standards and share vital information across borders.”

Proposals will be open until September, with evaluations beginning immediately after. Zelmer says that the toolset will continue to evolve as the drive towards standardisation continues to be pushed globally.