Kaiser Permanente this week announced it has given away its electronic database of medical terminology, which acts as a translation engine for physicians, clinicians and patients, as part of an effort to help ease the adoption of electronic medical records. The health care provider said it has donated the Convergent Medical Terminology (CMT) database to the National Library of Medicine and the International Healthcare Terminology Standards Development Organisation (IHTSDO), which oversees the current international standard medical terminology dictionary.

CMT contains more than 75,000 medical terms and billing codes commonly used by physicians as well as simpler synonyms that can be understood by patients.

For example, the World Health Organisation's standardised terminology dictionary refers to coronary artery disease (CAD) as atherosclerotic heart disease of native coronary arteries without angina pectoris. The CMT would translate that term for physicians as CAD and for patients looking at their personal electronic health record as "heart disease," said Phil Fasano, CIO of Kaiser Permanente.

The translation engine is also designed to help physicians and other clinicians with the specificity of a diagnosis, so that they don't have to guess what another physician using common medical language may have meant. "It's a set of translation tools and a dictionary with synonyms for each party that makes it very easy for a physician to document a condition and then automatically translate it into [billing codes] as well as language a patient would understand," Fasano said.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said having a standardised dictionary of medical terms and synonyms has been a key challenge to achieving a coherent health record for every US citizen. "This donation of the Convergent Medical Terminology from Kaiser Permanente addresses that critical need by making it easier for health professionals and patients to create standardised data in electronic health records," she said.

CMT also includes mappings to classifications and standard vocabularies, such as the Systematised Nomenclature of Medicine - Clinical Terms (SNOMED CT), which is already accepted by US and international health policy makers.

"I don't know that anyone in healthcare has ever donated a system this large. Our hope is that this gift will help the entire industry accelerate the adoption of electronic medical systems and to move toward meaningful use standards," Fasano said.