What Are LOINC Codes?

In healthcare IT, there are varying standards. One standard is LOINC - Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes.

LOINC facilitates the exchange of results data by providing a universal standard for identifying laboratory observations. The LOINC database and its supporting documentation are maintained by the Regenstrief Institute, Inc.

Why was LOINC established and what are the benefits?

LOINC was initiated in 1994 by the Regenstrief Institute to identify observations in HL7 messages (OBX segment). Prior to its establishment, no universal standard for laboratory test names existed. Therefore, laboratories would send varying values in the OBX-3 (observation identifier) and OBX-5 (observation value) segments. When working with multiple laboratories that used different codes for different test observations, a lack of standardization hindered the development of clinical repositories and research databases.

LOINC provides a standard way of identifying observations using approximately 41,000 observation terms. Nearly 31,000 of these terms are used for laboratory testing. LOINC codes allow you to merge clinical results from multiple sources into a single database, allowing results to be automatically sent to the appropriate place and improving patient care and clinical research.

Who uses LOINC?

LOINC is endorsed by the American Clinical Laboratory Association and the College of American Pathologists. It has been adopted by some large commercial laboratories for use in HL7 result messages and is used by some US federal agencies with healthcare interests. While initially created specifically for HL7 messaging, its use has expanded to Digital Imaging and Communication in Medicine (DICOM) ultrasound messages and Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium (CDISC) pharmaceutical industry messages.

Where can I get a copy?

The LOINC database and REMLA – a program for browsing the database, and mapping local files to LOINC – are available at no cost from the Regenstrief Institute. It can be downloaded here. More information about LOINC is available from the Regenstrief Institute.

Final thoughts on LOINC.

  • In general, LOINC is a work-in-progress rather than a final standard.
  • There is no US government mandate to move labs to LOINC. Movement will be gradual.
  • ELINCS uses LOINC for the top 100 tests, not the results. More information on ELINCS can be found in a previous post.
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Elizabeth Armenta

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4 Responses to What Are LOINC Codes?

  1. Sam June 18, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

    I just wanted to make a minor correction regarding your commment on ELINCS and LOINC. Depending on the version of ELINCS, the specification requires that analytes reported in the 85-90% percentile (by frequency) include a LOINC code in addition to the lab’s local analyte (or result) code. These are reported in the OBX-3 field of the corresponding HL7 result message. ELINCS does not specify which orderable codes must be sent and/or reported. Hope that clears things up.

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