Standards can bring leading edge closer to home

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  • A feedlot veterinarian in Colorado receives herd-specific health and antimicrobial susceptibility data from the National Animal Disease Center in Iowa. A Montana veterinarian and a diagnostic laboratory in Wyoming supplied the data. As the calves come off the truck, the feedlot veterinarian downloads the data into a personal digital assistant.
  • Through a digital link in the practice vehicle, a mobile practice veterinarian at a California dog show accesses the complete medical record of a best-of-breed Airedale from New York. The data were stored at an Indiana repository.
  • The Florida state veterinarian receives an automated alert indicating that a laboratory in Louisiana has confirmed the presence of African swine fever virus in a sample of pork impounded at the docks in New Orleans—just an hour earlier.

To make such scenes a practice reality within the next 10 years, two things are needed, according to the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Medical Informatics. First, digital technologies must continue evolving at their present rate, becoming more powerful and affordable.

Second, we must complete the development of veterinary medical information standards that allow the clear, unequivocal transmission of medical data.

As the "age of information" intensifies, opportunities as well as challenges are unfolding throughout the veterinary profession. Veterinarians' everyday decisions about information and the actions taken by veterinary organizations have the power to alter the future of the profession.

The technical terminology associated with digital technologies and standardized nomenclature can be intimidating and could appear to represent a purely cerebral pursuit. But in reality, the committee is driven by their strong relevance to veterinary practice.

For example, the electronic transmission of veterinary medical data builds large databases that enable veterinarians to analyze treatment outcomes. Animal health records could be made available on the Web. And it may be possible to electronically transmit laboratory test results directly into medical records.

Dr. Ted Cohn, chairman of the Committee on Veterinary Medical Informatics, said, "We'd like to see information standards incorporated into everyday life and practice and into management software. These technologies come into play extensively with food animals, but there are also important applications for small animals as well as international trade.

"The government could, for example, apply the technology to animal health certificates. The veterinarian performing the examination could transmit them electronically to the appropriate regulatory agencies and consignees."

One of the challenges is to ensure that all data are coded in a standardized way so they are useful to recipients. Since the mid-'80s the AVMA has been supporting the Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine (SNOMED), the only actively maintained system with veterinary content. Veterinary participation in the recently developed SNOMED-RT (reference terminology), a computer-capable system, has been essential to ensuring that veterinarians communicate effectively among themselves and speak a common language with human medicine. The AVMA's efforts have also included extensive work in Health Level Seven and Logical Observation Identifier Names and Codes standards for veterinary medicine.

Dr. Stephanie Sherman, a member of the informatics committee and the AVMA Standards Subcommittee, said, "People use information standards all the time; they just don't realize it. We wouldn't even be able to talk to each other on the phone without standards."

The Committee on Veterinary Medical Informatics, its ad hoc Emerging Technologies Subcommittee, and the AVMA Standards Committee encourage veterinarians to become involved in using electronic media in any and all applicable areas of their work. For more information, contact one of the following: Dr. Ted Cohn, chair of the Committee on Veterinary Medical Informatics, at tcdvmataol [dot] com (tcdvm[at]aol[dot]com), phone, (303) 757-5638, or Dr. Althea A. Jones, AVMA online managing editor, at ajonesatavma [dot] org (ajones[at]avma[dot]org), phone (800) 248-2862, ext 424.