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What FHIR Means for Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare professionals interested in digital health innovations have likely heard of FHIR (pronounced FIRE), but few know much beyond the name. Is FHIR the turnkey solution for all of the healthcare system’s interoperability challenges? And what will it ultimately mean for providers and patients?

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, or FHIR, is the new HL7 data standard. Today, when most healthcare professionals hear HL7, they cannot help but think of C-CCDs (Consolidated-Continuity of Care Documents) or other frustratingly stubborn patient health data structures, the likes of which are currently being transmitted using previous iterations of the HL7 standards.

Like earlier versions of HL7, FHIR was conceived out of the desire for interoperability. However, the key difference is that FHIR leverages modern web technologies, while implementing the best practices of the previous HL7 data specifications.

During the creation and development of FHIR, lessons were taken from Amazon, Google, and Facebook regarding best practices in security, authentication, and flow of data transmission. All of this development is currently being accelerated by a private sector collaborative effort, known as the Argonaut Project.


The Hope for FHIR

What interoperability has meant up until now was large XML payload transfers, which are as clunky and ineffective as they sound, requiring planned exchanges that involve a number of hospital IT staffers and physicians. FHIR, on the other hand, leverages a menu of resources that allow for a more semantically accurate interoperability.

When all is said and done, FHIR’s aim is to permit the secure transfer of health data from the hospital’s back office to the patient’s smartphone and back again. This will let patients create, read, update and delete data from a simple app on their smartphone, and have their electronic health record updated in the hospital.

This is great news for healthcare. The precedent for health data transfer has been arduous, timely, and very expensive due to systematic redundancies. The hope for FHIR is that it trumps all previous data standards by providing a single, simple to use format, where ease of use is the primary concern.


FHIR Is Ready Now

Although FHIR is currently an evolving standard, the final version won’t be all that different from its current iteration in Draft Standard for Trial Use 2 (DSTU2). What this means for providers is that there is very low risk to launching pilots now.

More and more, digital health entrepreneurs are attempting to innovate healthcare delivery in ways that adhere to value-based care models. The technologies that these entrepreneurs are trying to develop rely on data, and data relies on interoperability.

FHIR’s greatest advantage is that it will allow the applications that these innovators are developing to seamlessly integrate with the EHRs that providers are currently using, which will in turn drastically improve workflow for the clinicians delivering care.

For example, think of a provider who needs population health alerts for their patients, but their primary EHR doesn’t offer that functionality. Instead of forcing the provider to toggle with painstaking effort between two disparate applications, FHIR will establish a data transfer from the EHR to the population health management tool and back again.


Only the Beginning

This is only the beginning. Imagine applications that could integrate with EHRs and not only improve workflow, but also empower the patient beyond the clinic. Today, there are dozens of apps being developed, prototyped and piloted to do just that.

Commerce Kitchen, the Denver-based web and mobile development studio for which I work, is using FHIR to build a better bridge between healthcare and technology by participating in efforts like the Argonaut Project. To accelerate the development and adoption of FHIR-conformant APIs, we will also be assembling a connect-a-thon style technology showcase this autumn that will be open to anyone interested in learning more.

We encourage you to join us at the showcase, because collaboration is going to be vital to the success of FHIR and API platform models in healthcare.


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