EHR Innovation: Convergent Medical Terminology (CMT)

Dr. David Blumenthal | October 7, 2010

The health information technology (health IT) sector received an important gift on Sept. 29.  In fact, we received two important gifts.  Both these gifts came from Kaiser Permanente.  And both stemmed from Kaiser’s long-time investment and innovation in health IT adoption and use.

At a ceremony at HHS headquarters last week, Kaiser donated its Convergent Medical Terminology (CMT) for open availability to any HIT developer.  The technology enables clinicians to use the terms that are familiar to them in diagnosis and treatment.  CMT acts like a simultaneous translator in several directions.  For clinicians, it translates clinical language they use to communicate with colleagues into the technical terms that electronic health records (EHRs) use to communicate with other records.  For patients, it takes those underlying technical terms and makes them understandable to lay persons.  And, it can translate clinicians’ terminology directly into lay language as well.  It also facilitates the usability of EHRs and the sharing of health information among clinicians and patients.

This will spur adoption and meaningful use of EHRs.  CMT also will reduce current duplicative efforts – by many vendors and health care organizations – to develop and link clinician and patient-friendly terminology to underlying standards. Finally, in support of future innovation, it gives smaller EHR vendors and clinician practices that lack the resources to support vocabulary development access to high-quality clinician- and patient-friendly terminology.

CMT is a product of life in the real-world.  Kaiser recognized the barriers new EHRs represented for clinicians.  So it drew from its own substantial pool of talent to work with experts and develop a translation structure for its EHR.  Kaiser identified a high importance of clinician usability for successful EHR integration and invested in a solution.

This is precisely the kind of private sector innovation that holds the key to unlocking the potential of health IT.

As we move forward toward national and international adoption of health IT, we all each learn valuable lessons that can be shared with others.  This includes vendors and hospitals, but it also includes medical practices and care providers large and small.  I hope sharing will become another important “standard” as we innovate.  We’ll compete on costs, efficiency and quality, and usability.  But we can share important lessons as we go forward.

HHS Secretary Sebelius, White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, IHTSDO Chair Martin Severs, and I, were all on hand to acknowledge the hand-over of CMT.  We at ONC join them in offering our thanks to Kaiser Permanente – for CMT, and even more, for leadership in exemplifying the spirit of innovation!