Ken Lunn

Ken Lunn

Improving patient care through systems that accurately record health care encounters in a way that can be reliably communicated across different systems requires a common terminology.

SNOMED CT – or, to give it its full name, the Systematised Nomenclature of Medicine Clinical Terms – has been chosen as that terminology. SNOMED CT covers areas such as diseases, symptoms, operations, treatments, devices and drugs. It is considered to be the most comprehensive, multilingual clinical healthcare terminology in the world.

Benefits of SNOMED CT

Recording clinical data using SNOMED CT enables the consistent retrieval, transmission and analysis of data from patient records across healthcare systems. It provides for consistent information interchange and is a vital component in an interoperable electronic health record.

Key benefits include:

  • The capture of clinical information at a level of detail appropriate for the provision of healthcare;
  • A reduced need for health professionals to repeat previous “health history” dialogue with patients;
  • The facility for patient data to be recorded by different people in different locations, and to be combined into simple information views within the patient record;
  • Reduced incidence of differing interpretation of information;
  • Reduced error rates and more comprehensive recording of relevant data;
  • Easier, more effective analysis, as a result of standardised information.

Management, distribution and support for SNOMED CT in the UK are provided through the UK Terminology Centre (UKTC), which is hosted by the NHS Technology Office.

Increasing worldwide usage

The UK is one of the leading members of the International Standards Development Organisation (IHTSDO) formed to maintain and develop SNOMED CT.

As part of its commitment to facilitating the use of SNOMED CT worldwide, the IHTSDO was looking for a way to simplify and increase the efficiency of the license and distribution process to low income countries, as classified by the World Bank.

It wanted to do this in a way that maximised access but was also cost effective and low maintenance; and the UK fully supported this commitment. The UKTC undertook the minor changes necessary, after which IHTSDO launched a unique licensing and distribution tool.

The SNOMED CT Affiliate Licence Service for Low Income Countries is an online service, based on open source technologies, through which low income countries can enjoy the benefits afforded by SNOMED CT without the cost of licensing.

It is hosted by the NHS Technology Office/UKTC and is proving to be an international success. Since its introduction in June 2009, there has been significant interest in registering to use SNOMED CT from health care providers and others in low income countries. As a result, SNOMED CT is now freely available in 57 countries worldwide.

Broadening its appeal

Making such an important technology available to low income countries is a real coup and further strengthens our relationship with the IHTSDO and all its members.

Professor Martin Severs, chair of the management board of the IHTSDO has said: “We are grateful to the NHS for its generosity of spirit in working with us to make SNOMED CT a product that can improve healthcare for all.”


Contacts: All queries about the instance should be directed to the IHTSDO in the first instance. Further details about the UKTC and IHTSDO membership, and on provision of SNOMED CT to low income countries can be found on the IHTSDO website: The tool can be accessed via the following URL: