Understanding FHIR, its origins, and its purpose

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (also known as FHIR) is, at its core, an interoperability standard within the healthcare sector. It’s designed to lay the groundwork for rules and standards concerning the electronic exchange of healthcare information.

The nonprofit organization Health Level Seven International (HL7) developed FHIR in an effort to create a set of base standards for sharing patient health information through the use of several applications. It began as a pet project of sorts but was quickly discovered by other electronic health record vendors and has spread rapidly since then.

Those looking to gain a baseline understanding of FHIR can look to a search engine like Google for insight. FHIR is similar, in a way, to the software that leads you to the information or products you need when you look for something using a search engine. Normal, understandable URLs make it easy for us to return to product or information sources regardless of operating system or device; in theory, FHIR could grow to become the “standard URL” for medical professionals.

What your office stands to gain from implementing FHIR standards

Anybody with experience in the medical sector knows how crucial interoperability is to patient wellbeing. When patient information is able to be quickly and securely shared across offices and various platforms, it means that data is always readily and quickly available whenever it’s necessary. When offices no longer need to wait for faxes or hard copies of records, patients are seen more quickly.

FHIR implementation also means that health providers and systems have a means with which to launch applications directly from their electronic health records (EHR). Because these applications are built by external developers without the need for targeted implementation or customized integrations on an organization-by-organization basis, this also means that the creative process is shifted to a more scalable format.

FHIR benefits patients outside of medical offices, too. Traditionally speaking, patients who wanted or needed access to their health data and records would need to go into medical offices to receive printouts — sometimes they would even need to download their own data in massive, hard-to-understand text files. FHIR allows documents like these to be parsed and made interactive; easy, constant availability is no problem with FHIR.

Adopting FHIR also comes with the benefit of improved reporting. Because patient data that’s accurately sorted, stored and shared becomes easier to access and understand, that data acts as a tool for medical practices to provide better care and service. Patient care levels and outcomes stand to benefit tremendously from any practice that adopts better data management systems.

Names behind big innovation

The most notable company behind advancements relating to FHIR is likely its creator, HL7. Rather than leaving the FHIR standard to stagnate and allowing other companies to take over its evolution, HL7 has remained a core aspect of the strides being made regarding advancement. They’ve put out a balloting system designed to collect EHR providers’ feedback on what they believe are the best ways to standardize EHR data and share that information safely.

HL7 has a wealth of companies backing their interest in and work on FHIR. The contributors are numerous, and their interests in the project range from wanting to help publish test cases to providing FHIR API services. Some, like Alten Calsoft Labs, are dedicated to helping develop tools that will help with the push for FHIR implementation. Others, like ART-DECOR, are committed to supporting development and publishing implementation guidance at every level — international, national, and regional.

Google has filed a patent application for a “system and method for predicting and summarizing medical events from electronic health records.” The original application was filed in July 2017 and was recently made public earlier this year. From the application: “The data from the different institutions may be in different data formats, due to lack of standardization in the industry. The records are converted into the standardized data structure format. In one particular embodiment, the standardized data structure format is the Fast Health Interoperability Resources (FHIR) format …”  Google’s plan using the methods described in the patent application is to develop a deep-learning EHR analytics solution to predict future clinic events.

An FHIR-focused California software firm, Health Samurai, developed a care management system for Nashville-based Narus Health company. Narus was on the hunt for a company to build two enterprise web and mobile applications to serve more than 300 enterprise clients. The care management system Health Samurai developed was integrated with a mobile application in order to make recording and sharing data a quick, simple process.

Some of the snags hindering large-scale implementation

As mentioned, FHR relies on the use of multiple different applications to share patient health data with other providers. This is one key area that presents a challenge — exchanging data through various platforms and applications rather than through one integrated program can make things difficult.

FHIR has also grown from a standard bottom-up approach; this means of implementation has long been a roadblock to convincing governments to get on board with technological innovations. FHIR has quite some time to go before it reaches a certain level of maturity; once it hits that level, governments may begin writing it into regulation and adoption speeds will pick up. Until that point, though, adoption and implementation will continue to be slow-going.

A lack of real ownership over FHIR presents another roadblock. The standard is reliant on the community of groups that are behind the development and tweaks that make FHIR great. While this collaboration is excellent for bringing new and innovative ideas to the table, it doesn’t bode well for the creation of a wider and more global roadmap for implementation and use.

Opportunities FHIR creates

FHIR allows patients to take control of their own health data. Not only does this free up office staff from having to print and sort hard records or play phone tag with patients; more importantly, it offers patients an unprecedented level of autonomy and control over their private health information. This makes for happy, independent patients who better understand their own health.

When you adopt the FHIR standard, your office becomes a part of a larger ecosystem. This ecosystem is rife with innovative tools and services that work towards supporting the standard. Developing and implementing new ways to treat patients and share data becomes easy once you have an entire community and a host of helping hands behind you.

If you want to learn more about healthcare IT services and how Kraft Technology can help your healthcare business, contact us today. We’re excited to help you navigate the ups and downs of the systems and services that run FHIR-compliant applications. We offer Nashville’s top IT services and team; no matter what roadblocks you hit, our knowledgeable and professional team will be eager to get you through the mud to the rewarding prospects that lie ahead.

© 2019

This article first appeared in the May edition of Nashville Medical News.

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