Allergy documentation and exchange are vital to ensuring patient safety. This study aims to analyze and compare various existing standard terminologies for representing allergy information.
Five terminologies were identified, including the Systemized Nomenclature of Medical Clinical Terms (SNOMED CT), National Drug File–Reference Terminology (NDF-RT), Medication Dictionary for Regulatory Activities (MedDRA), Unique Ingredient Identifier (UNII), and RxNorm. A qualitative analysis was conducted to compare desirable characteristics of each terminology, including content coverage, concept orientation, formal definitions, multiple granularities, vocabulary structure, subset capability, and maintainability. A quantitative analysis was also performed to compare the content coverage of each terminology for (1) common food, drug, and environmental allergens and (2) descriptive concepts for common drug allergies, adverse reactions (AR), and no known allergies.
Our qualitative results show that SNOMED CT fulfilled the greatest number of desirable characteristics, followed by NDF-RT, RxNorm, UNII, and MedDRA. Our quantitative results demonstrate that RxNorm had the highest concept coverage for representing drug allergens, followed by UNII, SNOMED CT, NDF-RT, and MedDRA. For food and environmental allergens, UNII demonstrated the highest concept coverage, followed by SNOMED CT. For representing descriptive allergy concepts and adverse reactions, SNOMED CT and NDF-RT showed the highest coverage. Only SNOMED CT was capable of representing unique concepts for encoding no known allergies.
The proper terminology for encoding a patient's allergy is complex, as multiple elements need to be captured to form a fully structured clinical finding. Our results suggest that while gaps still exist, a combination of SNOMED CT and RxNorm can satisfy most criteria for encoding common allergies and provide sufficient content coverage.