Circulation 36,825 • Volume 17, No. 4 • Winter 2002

Data Dictionary Task Force Unveils DATAMS

New Software Compares Anesthesia-Related Data Sets

The Data Dictionary Task Force (DDTF), chaired by Dr. Terri Monk of the University of Florida-Gainesville, and under the technical direction of Dr. Iain Sanderson of Duke University, announced the launch of data comparison software, Distributed Anesthesia Terms and Mapping System (DATAMS). DATAMS was developed through the collaborative efforts of the DDTF’s two work groups, the Technical Working Group and the Clinical Working Group. DATAMS provides a mechanism for the Clinical Working Group to accept lists of data elements from multiple sources, including anesthesia information management system (AIMS) content and data sets or dictionaries developed by institutions or other organizations.

Drs. Monk and Sanderson presented the results of the DDTF’s 9-month development process at the recent ASA meeting as well as meetings of the Society for Technology in Anesthesia (STA) and the Association of Anesthesia Clinical Directors (AACD). Since being charged by the APSF Executive Committee in October 2001 and generously funded by the APSF, Deio, Draeger Medical, eko systems, GE Medical Systems, Philips Medical Systems, Picis, and Siemens Medical Systems, the DDTF has made significant progress on its mission to help standardize data terms across anesthesia information systems. Along the way, the DDTF has won support from national and international professional anesthesia associations and data standards organizations.

“The Technical Working Group drew on the experience of other groups that have labored over the same ground,” noted Dr. Sanderson. “The DDTF gained valuable insight from members of the AACD and STA who have worked on lengthy data projects with varying degrees of acceptance. DATAMS solves a number of problems associated with the development of a data dictionary, including management and comparison of multiple disparate lists, creating a structure that allows the mapping of one term to another, and elimination of the need for everyone in anesthesia to use exactly the same terms when referring to a particular data element. This is an absolute necessity in the global practice of anesthesia where terms vary from country to country, among institutions within the same country, and among systems from different vendors.”

DDTF Origins

The DDTF was first considered during an APSF workshop on anesthesia information management systems held at the 2000 American Society of Anesthesiologists meeting. Subsequent discussions led to the formation of the DDTF and the development of a plan to review and compare the disparate data element lists that are part of every AIM computer-based patient record. An integral part of the DDTF’s launch was the APSF’s statement supporting the use of AIMS perioperatively as a valuable resource to improve patient care and safety in anesthesia. The ability to capture and conduct research using standardized data from across AIMS, as well as institutions, is the ultimate outgrowth of the DDTF’s activities. The anesthesia community has long been frustrated by the inability to collect and analyze uniform data elements across departments and institutions. This lack of standardization has been a barrier to improving anesthesia care, identifying opportunities to reduce health care cost, and modifying practice appropriately.

DDTF Progress

In April 2002, the taskforce met to “spec out” and begin a development plan for the dataset. At that meeting, Dr. Sanderson presented a specification for a robust set of software tools that would allow the contribution and collection of multiple data lists, the mapping or comparison of those terms and the publication of a “key” that would allow toolset users to continue to name data elements flexibly, but allow the comparison of the underlying common meanings. Dr. Sanderson explained the concept of ontologies, or linguistic structures, on which other well-established systemized lexicons are built, and their value in the DDTF situation where many existing data lists are being compared and the relationships between data elements established. At this point he proposed DATAMS to create, maintain, and disseminate a reference set of anesthesia terms and phrases. More technical information on DATAMS can be found at

DDTF Collaborations

From its inception, the DDTF sought to build on the experience of other medical specialties as well as similar initiatives within anesthesia. In May 2002, the group held its first serious discussions with SNOMED International, the developers of Systemized Nomenclature of Medicine ( In addition, with the assistance of Dr. Martin Hurrell, the group also obtained a license from the British National Health Service (NHS) to the NHS Clinical Terms Version 3 (CTV3) for all US-based anesthesiologists. Dr. Homer Yang joined the group in May as an official representative of the Canadian Anesthesia Society.

Discussions with SNOMED proceeded over several months and the Clinical Working Group evaluated its anesthesia content. The group agreed that while the structured approach taken by SNOMED and NHS CTV3 was sound, the anesthesia content was lacking. Sanderson and colleagues also evaluated the mapping tool that SNOMED licenses to its users. Because the DDTF is committed to offering its reference data set freely to the anesthesia community, development using the SNOMED process seemed unlikely. The group decided to seek the services of experienced informatics linguists Mona and Murindar Singh to assist in the rapid development of a portion of the tools specified at the April meeting.

The results were presented at the ASA meeting and subsequently to STA and AACD. STA and AACD attendees were enthusiastic about the demonstrations provided by the DDTF. As a result, STA has offered to provide its list of clinical terms that formed the basis of a legacy data dictionary project, and the AACD offered to contribute its Clinical Times Glossary to the database with appropriate attribution. Additional good news came from Raj Dash, MD, the Chair of the SNOMED Extensions Board, the body that approves additions to the SNOMED project, when he endorsed the DDTFÕs work.

The DDTF is on target with its plan to provide a mapping system to enable database conversions and bench mark studies across the databases of its supporting AIMS manufacturers. In addition, the flexible, open approach proposed by the group allows individual institutions and vendors to maintain distinct data terms or apply the most common terms uncovered through the DATAMS process. Most importantly the DDTF has secured the involvement and active participation of national and international professional societies and organizations. This data-oriented collaboration is a new support in the foundation on which the expansion of AIMS implementations can be based. The APSF is committed to encouraging the adoption of AIMS as a key to providing better anesthesia care and improved patient safety. The DDTF and DATAMS are helping to unlock that door.

For more information on the Data Dictionary Task Force, please see the DDTF section of the APSF’s web site at or contact the Project Director, Becky Haines, at [email protected].