Value Set Management Tool Project

We are designing a tool that will help people create SNOMED CT value sets easily and accurately, with the intention that any user, who understands their own needs sufficiently, can easily find, change, build and maintain the appropriate set of clinical terms they need, for what they want to do.

Historically, the SNOMED Implementation team have taught people the rules and structures of SNOMED CT to help them avoid common errors, but the value of this type of training diminishes over time as staff and teams move on. In addition, this does not scale to meet the needs of the whole NHS, every NHS supplier, and the entire research and analytics community.

We are taking a user-centred design approach, engaging with, and listening to those who create and maintain value sets using individual processes to understand their needs at a more detailed level. In principle, we expect to design a tool to help users avoid common pitfalls that value set creators experience today, enabling collaboration between peers whilst enforcing standards for the documentation of value sets created.

Essentially, the tool will provide the functionality to ensure that users can maintain their value sets so that when their needs or the underlying terminology change, they can easily understand and address the impact on their value sets.

What is meant by the term 'value set'?

Put simply, a value set is a set of terms that have been grouped together for a particular purpose. An example could be a list of procedures used in a particular surgical speciality.

You may know these groups of terms as subsets, favourites, custom lists etc., but they all amount to the same thing.

In this project, we are initially focussing on value sets that are developed using terms that exist within SNOMED CT.

What is the current issue faced with value sets?

To create a safe and accurate value set that meets user needs, it is necessary to have a good understanding of the clinical domain as well as the structures and rules of SNOMED CT, due to the size and complexity of the terminology. Without this extra SNOMED CT knowledge, it is easy to unintentionally choose the wrong term and present incorrect data choices to users.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that currently, the tools available are very simple and they do not:

  • help users avoid choosing the incorrect term
  • keep existing value sets up to date
  • find existing value sets for re-use from external sources

We see the result of this in current NHS data, with sub-optimal value sets in systems resulting in a patient’s data being difficult to use beyond its primary purpose (of treating the individual).

What benefits can value sets bring?

SNOMED CT has a broad scope of coverage. It includes concepts representing the wide range of information that needs to be recorded in clinical records. However, we would not expect a clinician to be presented with the whole of the terminology and this is where value sets play a key role in the presentation and selection of clinical content.

As examples:

  • When a doctor is presented with a list of terms which may include conditions that fit a patient’s symptoms, they may not know it, but they are looking at value sets
  • When a nurse records a patient’s vital signs, they will be using value sets
  • When data is analysed by researchers, population health managers and commissioners of health services, they are almost certainly using value sets to find the data they need in order to make scientific breakthroughs, or enable them to make informed decisions that affect us all

How well-formed these values sets are really matters.

In summary, well defined value sets translate to more accurate, high quality and interoperable data, that can be shared between electronic systems across the health and care system.

This is just the first step to work towards improved, more interoperable data in the NHS.

By improving the value sets we use to enter, extract, and analyse clinical data:

  • Future researchers could have more complete, cleaner data to help them understand and cure conditions and diseases with greater ease, speed, and confidence
  • People making decisions about how to deploy the NHS’ valuable resources could have better data to base their decisions on

Additionally, from the perspective of those creating and maintaining value sets; these people will be able to work more efficiently, collaboratively, and with confidence that the system is designed to help them to avoid making mistakes.

In doing so, they will have transparency about what others have done, so that time is not wasted to develop a value set that someone else has already created.

Get involved in the project

If you would like to get involved with the Value Set Management Tool project, please get in touch.