• Regenstrief Institute is writing medical coding to help track coronavirus testing. (image courtesy: Regenstrief Institute)
  • The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was first detected in Wuhan

The Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute is doing its part to help public health leaders track cases of Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) during the global public health emergency.

Researchers are creating a series of codes to identify the lab tests used to screen patients for the virus.

The institute says since the new strain of coronavirus had never been identified before, the coding will make it easier to track cases of the virus in the U.S. and across the globe.

“With novel viruses that appear to be easily transmittable, such as the coronavirus, it is vitally important that all identified cases be reported quickly for public health tracking,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, associate director of the Global Health Informatics program at Regenstrief Institute. “These codes will facilitate the identification of cases, not just from system to system, but from health department to health department and even country to country,”

Cullen says the codes are part of a universal coding system called Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes. LOINC identifies health measurements, observations and documents.

LOINC, which was created by Regenstrief, uses standard terms, allowing data to be collected and shared electronically between public health agencies, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Swapna Abhyankar is associate director of content development for LOINC.

“We create codes for everything, regardless of whether it’s new (virus) or not. If you go to the doctor and you have a cholesterol level done, then the results are associated with a particular code. So that the next doctor you go see in a different hospital system or different state or different country will know exactly what that result means,” explained Abhyankar. “We create codes for all sorts of observations, but in this case, because it is a public health emergency, we worked with the appropriate authorities to make the code much more quickly.”

Abhyankar says with more complete tracking, health leaders can study the virus and create strategies to address and contain the outbreak.

This is not the first time the health information technology has been used. The Regenstrief team also created codes during the Zika and SARS outbreaks.

The LOINC coding system contains more than 92,000 terms.


Dr. Swapna Abhyankar explains the challenges to coding and tracking during a public health emergency.

Dr. Terry Cullen explains why medical coding is important to patients, even if they don’t know it exists.