Terminology standards in Canada: a conversation with Dr. Francis Lau

Terminology standards in Canada: a conversation with Dr. Francis Lau

The University of Victoria’s School of Health Information Science has graduated its first class of students from the Health Terminology Standards graduate certificate program. This program is accredited by the Canadian College of Health Information Management, and those who have graduated are eligible to become a Certified Terminology Standards Specialist with the College and hold the ‘CTSS’ professional designation.

The Canadian Health Information Management Association (CHIMA) spoke with professor, Dr. Francis Lau, to understand more about this program and why it’s growing in importance for health care professionals.

Several years ago, the College and Association completed a sector analysis investigating employment trends in health information technology. The feedback indicated that there was a growing need for health terminology standards (HTS). Lau, who specializes in medical informatics, was asked to be on the College advisory committee to look at the curriculum and competencies in HTS. After the proposed curriculum was reviewed internationally and approved as the required competencies in HTS, Lau says, the call went out to different educational institutions across the country to see which would be interested in developing a program to teach these standards.

The University of Victoria, whose health informatics program is the oldest in Canada and serves as a model for other Canadian programs, volunteered to put together the online graduate certificate program in HTS. It is designed to teach “the standardized language needed to quickly share patient records in a steadily growing world of web-based health communications, and better manage a growing volume of electronic data.”

In terms of the value of the program, Lau says, “Historically health information professionals deal mostly with ICD and CCI standards — but the landscape has changed. There are more and more standards coming out that are not necessarily covered in the HIM curriculum. Coupled with that, as everything becomes electronic, HIM professionals need to use terminology and data exchange standards when working with patients records so that the information can be standardized and shared with other institutions.”

He also observes that the field is rapidly changing. Social issues are playing an increasing role in the evolution of terminology standards; this includes creating more diverse ways of identifying both sex and gender types in terminology, or in helping practitioners to better standardize and capture data about social determinants of health to more accurately address the actual needs of their patients.

While this program was intended for HIM professionals, the first class of graduates also included nurses, a physician, and analysts. The program was designed as a graduate-level program (with master’s students being able to include the four courses of this certification toward their degree, if they choose), but those without a baccalaureate degree who have at least 15 years of experience working in the field may also be admitted.

The program is not just unique in Canada; Lau believes it is the only program of its kind in the world today. While most graduates have not changed their current career, he says, they are regarded as being the go-to individuals who are at the cutting edge of HTS both in their organizations, and in the industry at large.

For more information or to register for the Health Terminology Standards graduate certificate program at the University of Victoria, click here.

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