The adoption of a common clinical language across all healthcare settings and organisations in England, supported by electronic communication, will mean "clearer and consistent communication between hospital and GPs", says the Department of Health.
The Information Standards Board for Health and Social Care today (16 August 2011) approved SNOMED Clinical Terms (CT) as a fundamental standard and notified all NHS organisations, independent providers and information system suppliers of the need to use SNOMED CT when providing care.
Ministers believe that this move will allow information to be exchanged accurately and safely across England.
SNOMED CT is already widely used in the UK for the exchange of clinical information, including the Choose and Book service for hospital appointments and for patients' Summary Care Records.
The move to a shared 'clinical language' will enable clinicians across primary, secondary, community, mental health and social care to all contribute to shared healthcare records.
Health Minister Simon Burns said: "The adoption of SNOMED CT is an important milestone and will mean clearer and consistent communication between hospitals and GPs. Having a standard language also helps patients better understand their care records."
All GP records are recorded using terminologies, and there are estimated to be in excess of six billion items of coded data in GP records alone.
Informatics leaders believe that a comprehensive terminology makes possible clear and consistent communication of clinical information, and improves record keeping, record sharing and speed of entry of information.
Dr Charles Gutteridge, National Clinical Director for Informatics at the Department of Health said: "The accurate transmission of information from GP surgery to specialist, from nurse to doctor and from care worker to doctor is central to good medical practice.
"SNOMED CT allows the transmission of information between any part of the health system. The terms are easy for clinicians to use and can be understood by patients and their families.
"This approval will ensure a standard way of transmitting information about patients and I hope that all clinicians will accelerate the use of this terminology for the benefit of the patients we care for."