Toward a more fair and equitable clinical terminology

As expectations for diversity and inclusion grow, the words we use – in any situation – must be carefully considered. Learn how IMO is embracing this challenge and heeding the call for more fair and equitable clinical terminology across the healthcare ecosystem.
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clinical terminology

As the world becomes more connected, we grow more aware of the ways in which words can stigmatize, offend, and induce harm. This brings the historical use of some language under increased scrutiny. In clinical terminology, which involves the millions of words used to describe patient attributes, conditions, and treatments, this is especially true.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the origins of some longstanding diagnostic medical terms are no longer socially acceptable. This reality, and the need for greater sensitivity, have become catalysts for change at IMO and throughout healthcare as a whole.

With growing frequency, clients are contacting IMO to request the removal or modification of clinical terminology in order to meet current expectations for diversity and inclusion. We are addressing offensive terms related to gender identity, substance use, and the stigmatization of disabilities – as well as reviewing and removing terms that glorify war heroes or eugenicists. And while customer requests are often the impetus for change, there is significant work being done on areas of concern identified by internal team members at IMO.

Uniquely positioned for positive change

While IMO does not directly own or manage standard global coding systems, such as ICD-10-CM and SNOMED®, our work focuses on terminology, connecting standard industry descriptions to clinical practice, and enhancing usability across the healthcare ecosystem by managing synonyms, colloquial phrases, and misspellings. Given our leadership in this space and IMO’s vast reach – used at the point of care by over 500,000 US physicians every day – we are uniquely positioned to help improve the use of fair and equitable terminology in medicine.

Last year, over a span of nine months IMO’s Fair and Equitable Terminology Committee reviewed over 500 terms across 14 different code sets, resulting in the removal or suggestions for the replacement of approximately 150 terms. The bulk of these changes were made in our most recent December Precise Problem Terminology release.

IMO will continue evaluating and updating the use of words that may stigmatize or offend, while maintaining connections to underlying historical terms and standard code sets behind the scenes. While the process for doing so may evolve, we remain committed to:

  • Conducting a thorough and thoughtful review of problematic terms, examining not only their clinical intent but also any possible unintended impact.
  • Researching and developing appropriate medical terminology that maintains clinical value while eliminating the negative effects and removing the potentially offensive terms from visibility for both clinicians and patients.
  • Working closely with industry experts to ensure we understand the impact of the terms as they exist today and the potential consequences of changes we are considering to ensure we are not unintentionally causing other issues.
  • Collaborating with our clients and partners on other approaches that may help organizations address their specific needs or preferences as they relate to fair and equitable terminology.
Clients who have questions about removed or replaced terminology, or who identify other terms for IMO to consider, are encouraged to log a support ticket at https://imosupport.force.com/s/.

SNOMED and SNOMED CT® are registered trademarks of SNOMED International.

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