What is FHIR and why do people keep talking about it?
FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) is an open standard of data exchange that is catching on quickly across the industry and recognized for its potential to help make interoperability a reality in healthcare.
Health Data Exchange in the U.S.
Data exchange in healthcare remains an archaic, slow, and expensive process that relies on custom integrations and antiquated technologies. Even though 90% of providers now use EHRs, most of those EHRs don’t communicate with each other. This fragmentation means that healthcare information is still being faxed, patients are still carrying paper copies of their medical records to their appointments, and providers are still entering data by hand.
With no unified standard of exchanging health data (resulting in lack of interoperability), healthcare remains expensive and inefficient, with compromised provider and patient experiences. But as healthcare continues to become consumerized, and interoperability gains more attention, the old, inefficient ways of handling healthcare data are being replaced by a new standard of health data exchange.
An emerging standard: FHIR
FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) is the new open standard created by the standards body, Health Language Seven International (HL7), to enable the exchange of healthcare data by harnessing the power of the internet. It represents a big technological step forward, as the current healthcare standards in use were created in the late 1980s before the internet was mainstream. FHIR is built with modern web technologies that many other industries (such as banking) already use.
Overview of FHIR:
- Pronounced ‘Fire’
- Combines the best features of HL7 v2 and HL7 v3
- Guides how health data should be structured and shared over the web
- Built with web technologies that the internet uses every day such as RESTful APIs, JSON, HTTP, OAuth, etc.
- Built with a strong focus on implementation (so it’s fast and easy for developers to learn and use)
- Specification is open source and free to use (whereas the old HL7 standards weren’t)
- Aims to solve many interoperability problems
Having a true standard in healthcare prevents medical waste, cuts clinical and administrative costs, and ensures a higher quality of care delivery. Many people in healthcare understand this, and FHIR is quickly becoming the de facto standard for healthcare IT with support from ONC and major vendors who are working to drive its adoption.
Benefits of Interoperability
Data is the lifeblood of new technology, and having the ability to share and receive it accelerates innovation in any industry. The goal of FHIR is to ultimately empower different systems in healthcare to easily share information, enabling new solutions to be created and helping make interoperability a reality. We have a long way to go to achieve industry-wide interoperability, but we are getting closer with the FHIR standard.
Important benefits of interoperability:
- Less paperwork. Most of the information you need to receive and send can be shared electronically with APIs just like in other industries. You would be able to aggregate health data from different sources and systems over the internet.
- Lower healthcare costs. Having access to full patient data sets in real-time allows providers to make better clinical decisions, run less repeated tests, and reduce medical errors. Providers would be able to coordinate care at a level of precision that doesn’t currently exist in healthcare, improving care quality and health outcomes while lowering costs.
- Lower cost of developing healthcare solutions, because it will be easier and cheaper to access data via APIs. There will be less need to build expensive, custom interfaces in order to access data stored in legacy systems.
- Developers from non-healthcare backgrounds can get into healthcare and create disruptive products because data will be available to them. They will be able to build healthcare products faster, meaning more innovation and iterations of healthcare solutions.
- Patients will have access to an open application store in healthcare where they can download apps they need to manage their own health and easily access their healthcare data on mobile or the web. This will result in a better, more integrated healthcare experience for patients, empowering them as true consumers.
There are many other use cases and benefits for FHIR, and that’s why we at Health Samurai see much potential in the standard. We even built our cloud platform, Aidbox, based on FHIR to make it easy for organizations to handle all their healthcare data the right way.