Standards: Stepping up to the plate

Standardization may not qualify as the most scintillating topic, but it is critical for ensuring uniformity in everything from product designs to nomenclature.

The process of standardization is not easy, especially in fields where competing camps have strong views about one approach or another. So kudos to the American College of Cardiology (ACC) Foundation and the American Heart Association (AHA) for spearheading efforts to standardize definitions and data elements for symptoms and conditions related to acute coronary syndrome and coronary artery disease.   

EHRs hold a huge potential as tools for tracking emerging trends in healthcare, but only if the data elements are consistent. That includes consistency in terms and abbreviations. Transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) and transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) may mean the same thing to you and me, but to a binary computer they are simply ones and zeros that don’t have an equal sign at the end.     

Thirteen societies contributed to the guidelines, which were published Jan. 28 online on the ACC and AHA websites. The next challenge is getting physicians to follow them and adhere to the standards. Involving a broad swath of professional organizations should facilitate buy-in from each group’s membership. It is a smart move.  

James E. Tcheng, MD, chair of the ACC's informatics committee, said in an interview with Cardiovascular Business that publishing the standards is only the first step. An educational push will follow, with efforts to facilitate adoption. Likely the authors will review the process in a few years to gauge progress and identify opportunities for improvements.

“At the end of the day, somebody has to own this,” said Tcheng, adding that the ACC accepted that challenge.

I suspect that more physicians and administrators also will embrace standardization as the results from EHR-facilitated registries shed light on ways to improve patient care. They may even feel pride in ownership, realizing that their painstaking use of standardized definitions and data elements contributed to these advancements.

Candace Stuart

Cardiovascular Business, editor