COVID-19 has turned eyes towards public health like never before. Knowing what an opportunity this is for public health to help communities recognize the value their local health departments provide as well as shine a spotlight on the services offered by public health, we thought we’d interview Karen Martin about standardized terminology, such as the Omaha System, and how it can give public health a voice.

Karen S. Martin, MSN, FHIMSS, FAAN is a healthcare consultant who has offered her services to healthcare workers across the continuum of care and in both practice and academic settings. Prior to her career as a healthcare consultant, Karen worked at the Visiting Nurses Association of Omaha. While there, she was responsible for Omaha System research projects for 16 years. She and Omaha System colleagues formed the Board of Directors in 2001; Karen serves as the chair. She is also the lead co-chair of the Omaha System International Conferences. She is the author of the Omaha System book.

So, what does standardized terminology have to do with giving public health a voice? Keep reading and find out!

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your personal history with the Omaha System standardized terminology and why this is something you have devoted so much of your career to championing?

A: I began working with the federally funded research project at the Visiting Nurse Association of Omaha in 1978 and found the entire project fascinating. I was hooked on the potential for the Omaha System although my colleagues and I never dreamed it would explode globally as it has now in 2020. I have had awesome opportunities and experiences.

Author’s note: You can read more about the Omaha System standardized terminology and its history on the Omaha System website.

Q: If you are speaking to someone who isn’t familiar with standardized terminology, how do you describe it?

A: The Omaha System is a research-based, comprehensive practice and documentation language or classification designed to describe client care. Health care providers can use the 3 components of the Omaha System from the time they begin providing care until discharge.  It is a communication tool.

Q: What makes the Omaha System standardized terminology stand out from other standardized terminologies?

A: Hey, I am biased!! It was designed for use by diverse health care providers in automated documentation systems beginning in 1975. It is relatively simple, is hierarchical, and has terms and a structure that is user friendly for those in practice, education, research, and software development. It can be used across the continuum of care by multiple software developers. It exists in the public domain, so users do not buy a license or pay fees to use its terms, definitions, and codes. The general public can understand the Omaha System terms, and a recently completed app was designed specifically for public use.

Q: How can standardized terminology benefit local public health departments when applying for funding or talking with decision makers or legislators?

A: When used consistently and accurately at the point of care, it allows the clinician to track care, diverse clinicians to share and compare data, and  administrators to aggregate powerful clinical data for quality improvement, reports, accreditation, grants, surveyors, and diverse other purposes. Administrators can use clinical data to help local, state, and national fiscal intermediaries and legislators understand services provided and support the need for continued and increased funding. Data can be exchanged among users based on the Omaha System’s assessment component, a care plan/services component, and an evaluation component.  Note: Although the Omaha System is intuitive, it is not “automatic”. Users must think and invest time and energy to use it correctly. Clinicians must follow good standards of practice and thoughtfully translate that practice into Omaha System terms.

Author’s Note: Read one Minnesota health department’s success story using the Omaha System standardized terminology to exchange data with their accountable care organization and receive funding for their region as a result.

Q: Why is this such a timely moment to be thinking about public health having a voice?

A: The need for accurate and consistent clinical data has never been greater. Because of COVID-19, it is essential that public health staff and agencies are able to explain their services and value to the public in a clear, systematic way. Karen Monsen is leading a COVID-19 Resource Guideline project based on the Omaha System problem, Communicable/infectious condition. The goal is to have a tool, so user clinicians and agencies globally have access to the most current, evidence-based interventions and resources.

Q: Can you share with us some of the ways the Omaha System standardized terminology has benefited (or could benefit) local public health departments and other healthcare facilities responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: The spotlight is on local and state public health departments as it has never been before. They are considered essential sources of accurate information about all aspects of COVID-19 by the public. They are operating hot lines; responding to requests from the media; giving interviews; doing case finding; and providing statistics about exposure, cases, and deaths at a rapid pace. Health departments need ways to capture, document, and share details about these services; the three components of the Omaha System offer an organized framework to do just that.

Next Steps:

  1. Join our Expert Webinar on June 11, 2020 at 10:00 am CT to hear from Dakota County Public Health and Brown County Public Health about how they’re increasing the visibility of public health and helping their communities understand the value of public health through their COVID-19 response efforts.
  2. Contact us today to get a quote for Nightingale Notes EHR, built on the Omaha System standardized terminology.
  3. Read more about the benefits of standardized terminology for public health.