Should You Be Using LOINC?
The more I work with terminologies, the more I find that the question is not, "Should we use Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes, or LOINC?" but, "How can we use them effectively?" If your electronic health record is like mine, you may see a test result component with a provider-friendly name like "EOS" or "Protein Intake" and not really know for sure exactly what it means. Armed with a LOINC code, you would know that, for this particular organization, these items are, respectively, "Eosinophils/100 leukocytes in Blood by Automated count" and "Protein intake 1 hour." Both potentially useful pieces of information, especially if the organization you came from measured protein intake in different hour increments.
Using standardized terminologies can reduce overall training time to learn all the little nuances that creep into an organization's local names, or even eliminate them. What else can we do with LOINC? We can create an entire nutritional assessment. How cool is that!?
A LOINC code can define a question along with the list of answers for that question. For example, LOINC code 61449-5 says, "How often did you drink milk as a beverage in the past 30 days?" The corresponding answer list contains such as, "Never or less than 1 time per month," and "1 time per month." The questions can then be grouped together into panels to create an entire survey of clinical observations.
The benefit: When someone asks you for a copy of the nutrition assessment form used at your organization, you could give them a single LOINC code. Based on that code they would not only know every question and every standardized answer on that assessment, but they also would be able to plug it into a utility that would automatically build the entire survey online.
These are just two examples of the cool things that can be done with one of the primary standardized terminologies being adopted by health care organizations. Happy LOINCing!
John Snyder, DTR, RD, is a senior phenomics data analyst for Geisinger Health Systems, in Danville, Penn. Previously, he was the dietitian for the U.S. National Sprint Cycling team, a computer programmer and software tester, and his writing has appeared in Men's Health and other publications.