As digital health care initiatives such as electronic medical records become an increasingly common element of health care delivery world-wide, many of the same challenges that exist in the real world are manifested in the virtual one as well. A common challenge in the digital world is to ensure that everyone is speaking the same language and using common terminology. Digital assistants, for example, need to use common terms to support healthcare providers when different, synonymous medical terms such as "heart attack," "myocardial Infarction," "MI", etc., are used in clinical documentation.

To address that challenge, the University of Victoria’s School of Health Information Science this fall introduced a graduate-level certificate program in health terminologies.

Francis Lau, a professor and faculty coordinator for the program, explains that the program was developed in response to the growing need for health terminology specialists. It follows the curriculum established by the Canadian Health Information Management Association (CHIMA) Canadian Terminology Standards Certification Curricular Competencies, developed in collaboration with Canada Health Infoway, a national advisory stakeholder group and more than 25 stakeholders.

“We see the trend where more and more organizations are moving to interoperable health records,” Francis says. “We will increasingly need to be able to exchange and share information across organizations and that means we need to use standard terminologies. That will also really improve the quality of the information that is being shared.”

The first cohort of the one-year certificate program, which he believes is the first of its kind in North America, and possibly globally, includes nine students – a mix of physicians, nurses, a health records clerk and a few IT professionals.

CHIMA is in the process of developing a certification exam so graduates will be eligible for CHIMA certification, and is working with healthcare organizations to encourage them to adopt this certification as an added credential for health information professionals, Francis adds.

Gevity is supporting the certificate program by sitting on the program advisory committee, which officially launches on Oct. 3, 2018. The committee provides overall curricular and program guidance for the certificate program and includes representatives from its communities of interest and stakeholders who are involved with health terminologies.

Gevity staff members Lloyd McKenzie, Iryna Roy, Frederic Laroche and Russ Buchanan, experts in the field of digital health standards, are also serving as guest lecturers on topics such as the HL7 Version 3, HL7 Clinical Document Architecture (CDA) and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standards, as well as on the appropriate use of terminology standards such as SNOMED CT, ICD and others.

In addition to understanding the importance of nurturing and supporting programs that advance digital health, notes Russ, it’s also important to cultivate a broader pool of professionals that both public and private sector companies can draw upon when information in electronic medical records is exchanged and used for computer-assisted decision-making. Emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning will require high-quality data.

For more information on the UVic certificate program, visit