- Date: March 2, 2017
- By: Ted Block
FHIR it up! Progress for healthcare IT standard
If you work in Healthcare IT and don’t know what FHIR is, or what it stands for, you should. FHIR is a standard that just may improve the quality of service of healthcare providers all over the world in the years to come.
It stands for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources and is a set of standards that define how healthcare service providers should share healthcare information amongst each other and with the patients themselves. It defines the format of the data so that when information is shared, other healthcare providers know how to interpret the data.
When you really think about it, the value is seemingly endless.
Forget the last time you received a vaccine? In a post-FHIR world you no longer have to play the guessing game, or try to reach the provider from the East Coast that you saw before your recent move.
A more critical use of this data Interoperability might involve a person who is rushed to the ER after a car crash. If the medical staff can’t immediately get ahold of his or her family and the person is unable to provide their medical history, full interoperability of healthcare systems would provide access to the person’s medical information and could alert the ER staff of the medications that the person is allergic to. It would even allow them insight into the care that was provided to the patient on the ambulance ride to the ER. The value that Fast provides here goes without saying.
In addition to providing more comprehensive care, anonymizing and aggregating this data could allow organizations to research such things as medication or procedure side effects, drug interactions, dosage effectiveness, and long term side effects, to name a few.
Why standardize? What is so special about FHIR? Will it even be adopted?
FHIR was created by HL7, a not-for-profit organization that has been developing healthcare data exchange standards for 30 years. It is made up of over 1600 members across over 50 countries including healthcare providers, governments, pharmaceutical companies, consulting firms, and suppliers of healthcare products. Unlike previously designed standards, FHIR was created with an emphasis on ease of implementation because no matter how noble one’s cause is, if it’s a nightmare to implement, adoption will always be a problem. In addition to simplified implementation, it is easily extensible or customizable, to field-specific or organization-specific needs that may arise in the future.
So…what IS FHIR?
It includes a set of technologies that can be used to build secure RESTful APIs, which are services that healthcare IT systems can use to talk to one another over the internet. Through these APIs, medical data can be shared with healthcare providers and patients who need it, when they need it. It is a predefined set of interactions (read, update, delete, history, etc.) that the APIs should expose to enable data sharing with those who are authorized.
It is a defined set of Resources, or pieces of data. For example, a patient is a resource, as is an appointment, a medication and an observation. It is a set of definitions of how each of these resources relate to other resource types. In this case a patient may be administered or provided medication (say for high blood pressure) after an observation is made relating to that patient (the high blood pressure readout). That medication has a recommended dosage, manufacturer and an expiration date among other attributes. By having this defined set of resources, various systems know the language with which to talk to one another.
It is an exhaustive set of implementation guides to drive adoption by healthcare providers. It is software code that can be customized by healthcare providers to enable them to get started quickly, the true meaning of Fast in FHIR.
And while it is still in a “low adoption” state per the 2016 Interoperability Standards Advisory Report put out by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, it is on the cusp of being a breakthrough that could improve the quality of healthcare across the globe.