Data automation has revolutionized the healthcare industry. From exclusively relying on voluminous documents, patient records can be accessed, stored, and processed electronically without compromising confidentiality.
Seamless information exchange is paramount to healthcare service delivery. While over 95% of American hospitals use automated systems, research has shown that healthcare data remains fragmented and lacks interoperability. This is where Logical Observation, Identifiers, Names, and Codes or LOINC comes in.
As data accumulates rapidly, this internationally recognized system plays a crucial role in bridging the gaps in data exchange. But what is LOINC, and how can it help? Read on to find out more.
LOINC is a universal standard for identifying medical laboratory observations and clinical results. Each identifier comprises seven numeric characters representing different elements, including medical tests, clinical measurements, and laboratory analyses. At the same time, LOINC names typically reflect the name and abbreviation of the lab test done.
Every LOINC code is composed of six parts that describe the different elements of a lab test, such as:
- Component: Also called analyte, refers to the substance being tested or observed. Examples include glucose, albumin, amylase, creatinine, and so on.
- Property: This section defines the characteristics of the analyte.
- Time: It refers to the interval in which the observation was done.
- System: It describes the entity from which the specimen was taken, for instance, urine, blood, etc.
- Scale: This determines how the result is expressed, whether quantitative, nominal, narrative, or ordinal.
- Method: This part briefly explains how the assessment was performed.
Some countries and regulatory agencies, including the United States Food and Drug Administration, require LOINC codes for SDTM for better efficiency and standardization across different health automation systems.
Though first developed in 1994, it took years for LOINC codes to gain widespread adoption. While globally recognized, it isn’t mandatory in most countries for various reasons. LOINC is being used in over 196 countries, according to its official website.
Regenstreif Institute, a private and non-profit medical research organization, creates, maintains, and constantly updates these codes. The best thing about LOINC is that it’s free.
The Benefits Of Using Standardized Codes
The expanding adoption of LOINC benefits the global healthcare system in multiple ways. With this tool, providers can experience:
Improved accuracy and efficiency in recording, sharing, and aggregating medical records
Instead of relying on manually written descriptive texts, this classification system attaches unique identifiers to each test and observation. Doing so ensures that accurate data is recorded, with no essential information falling through the cracks.
For example, a data entry worker uses the corresponding code to identify the test whenever a lab procedure is performed and the result is out. Adopting uniform codes makes analysis and reporting easier for healthcare facilities.
Because of the standard terminologies, health facilities will have wider access to patient data and process them accordingly. For instance, if a hospital seeks to evaluate a potential treatment for a certain disease, it can measure the impacts of the novel and traditional treatments more accurately.
Enhanced interoperability between and among medical facilities
Trying to consolidate and make sense of disparate local codes used by different facilities can be time-consuming and mind-boggling—even to seasoned clinicians. But it’s a necessary exercise to deliver the best diagnosis and care.
LOINC enables seamless data integration across different EHR platforms. Its uniform coding system makes it easier for medical practitioners to understand a patient’s history even if they switch to another facility or provider. Patients likewise stand to save on medical expenses, as they don’t have to undergo duplicate testing.
Cost and time savings
Like other advanced electronic health record (EHR) systems, LOINC-enabled systems can auto-populate certain fields, preventing inaccuracies caused by typographical errors or mistyping entries.
Pre-defining thousands of medical tests and measurements helps healthcare providers save time creating and managing local codes. Over 95,000 LOINC codes are currently in the system, covering a wide range of medical testing fields.
But do you need to memorize thousands upon thousands of codes or keep a copy of the most commonly used terms? Not really. The system has a support tool called Regenstreif LOINC Mapping Assistant, or RELMA, to search the database automatically and find potential matches. This tool runs on Windows and can also help map local codes to the platform.
Health data automation makes sharing and processing data with consent easier. However, interoperability remains a pressing issue for healthcare providers worldwide.
The LOINC system underpins modern healthcare’s data exchange capabilities. These standard codes make it easier to aggregate and analyze data, leading to more reliable outcomes.
As a universal health data standard, the system offers significant potential to bridge systemic gaps that challenge global health networks. With worldwide adoption, clinical data is expected to flow seamlessly across linguistic, geographic, and institutional boundaries.