Objectives: We wanted to develop a method for evaluating the consistency and usefulness of LOINC code use across different institutions, and to evaluate the degree of interoperability that can be attained when using LOINC codes for laboratory data exchange. Our specific goals were to: (1) Determine if any contradictory knowledge exists in LOINC. (2) Determine how many LOINC codes were used in a truly interoperable fashion between systems. (3) Provide suggestions for improving the semantic interoperability of LOINC.
Methods: We collected Extensional Definitions (EDs) of LOINC usage from three institutions. The version space approach was used to divide LOINC codes into small sets, which made auditing of LOINC use across the institutions feasible. We then compared pairings of LOINC codes from the three institutions for consistency and usefulness.
Results: The number of LOINC codes evaluated were 1917, 1267 and 1693 as obtained from ARUP, Intermountain and Regenstrief respectively. There were 2022, 2030, and 2301 version spaces among ARUP and Intermountain, Intermountain and Regenstrief and ARUP and Regenstrief respectively. Using the EDs as the gold standard, there were 104, 109 and 112 pairs containing contradictory knowledge and there were 1165, 765 and 1121 semantically interoperable pairs. The interoperable pairs were classified into three levels: (1) Level I - No loss of meaning, complete information was exchanged by identical codes. (2) Level II - No loss of meaning, but processing of data was needed to make the data completely comparable. (3) Level III - Some loss of meaning. For example, tests with a specific 'method' could be rolled-up with tests that were 'methodless'.
Conclusions: There are variations in the way LOINC is used for data exchange that result in some data not being truly interoperable across different enterprises. To improve its semantic interoperability, we need to detect and correct any contradictory knowledge within LOINC and add computable relationships that can be used for making reliable inferences about the data. The LOINC committee should also provide detailed guidance on best practices for mapping from local codes to LOINC codes and for using LOINC codes in data exchange.
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