The identification, definition, and implementation of standardized data in the health care and health care information fields are long overdue. Information is collected by a wide range of users and in a myriad of different formats. Work has been undertaken in the past to try to bring some semblance of order to selected areas of health data collection, especially in the areas of hospital inpatients and physician office visits. The ever-expanding sites of care, combined with the increasing use of electronic data, make it imperative that all health data collection activities, where possible, utilize standardized data elements and definitions. Standardized data elements will be vitally important in the evolving managed care field, where there is a need to follow individuals through a continuum of care and at multiple sites. Performance monitoring and outcomes research are two additional areas that are currently hampered by the inability to link data sets from various sources due to varying data elements and definitions.
The National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics (see appendix A for roster) has completed a two-year project requested by the Department of Health and Human Services to review the current state of health-related core data sets; obtain input on their collection and use; interact with data standards-setting groups; and, most importantly, promote consensus by identifying areas of agreement on core health data elements and definitions. The Committee's goal has been to develop a set of data elements with agreed-upon standardized definitions that, when needed in a data collection effort, can be used to collect and produce standardized data. The intent is not to specify a data set for mandated external reporting; the list of recommended data elements is by no means exhaustive, and, unlike earlier activities, is not a "data set" to be used in a specific setting.
It is the expectation of the Committee that the health care field will find these recommended data elements to be fundamentally important for any collection of person and health care encounter data and will consider these elements and standardized definitions for inclusion in their data collection efforts wherever possible. Favorable input has been received from a wide range of experts, and these elements should be compellingly useful both to states and to provider organizations.