Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, or FHIR for short, is an interoperability specification for the electronic exchange of healthcare information. It was developed by Health Level Seven International (or HL7 as it’s more commonly known).

Health data interoperability has been a very big concern for years now as people began to realize the importance of the seamless exchange of data. FHIR is a new approach to interoperability which is solely application-based, making health information exchange better than ever before.

This article will give you some essential information about this topic. However, if you would like to dive a little deeper, make sure to check out Prolifics guide to FHIR, one of the most comprehensive guides on this topic on the web.

FHIR – definition

With the growing use of electronic health records (EHRs), HL7 set out to find a way to “simplify implementation without sacrificing information integrity”, which is how FHIR came to be.

The main philosophy behind FHIR is to build a base set of resources that, either by themselves or in combination with other resources, satisfy the biggest number of common use cases. The goal of FHIR resources is to define the information contents and structure shared by most implementations.

FHIR manages to accomplish this goal by leveraging existing logical and theoretical models. That way, it provides a consistent, easily implemented, and rigorous mechanism that allows data exchange between healthcare applications.

FHIR was created to keep up with modern times, so it was designed specifically for the internet. It can be used as a stand-alone data exchange standard, but also in conjunction with existing standards. It was built upon the concept of resources, which can be incorporated into already-existing systems.

Resources can be defined as any content that is exchangeable and has the following characteristics:

  • Common definition and method of representation
  • The part that is readable by humans
  • A common set of metadata

FHIR can be used in various different types of applications, such as mobile apps, EHRs, and cloud communication.

Benefits of FHIR

The impact of technology in healthcare has been huge, and FHIR is just another step that helps people use that technology better.

It was developed to standardize how healthcare information is exchanged and enable all administrators and healthcare workers to share patient information with ease. This can be done even if the two parties are using different software systems.

FHIR associates each resource with a unique identifier that allows users to access the needed information from any device or application. Because this is possible, there is no need to exchange individual data back and forth between systems, making the process easier and more efficient.

It also enables developers to create user-friendly applications that function very similarly to browsers and provide quick but also reliable access to data. This kind of approach offers many benefits, some of which include:

  • Easy implementation
  • Quicker healthcare delivery due to readily accessible data
  • Making data for automated clinical support structured and standardized
  • Feeding information directly into workflows

Even though FHIR is still in draft-mode, its benefits are already being reaped by providers, vendors, and developers who are working on new tools that will leverage the data standard.

This standard will have practically limitless uses, help healthcare organizations increase patient engagement like never before, and allow doctors to dive into intelligent clinical decision support.

What makes FHIR so different?

Most health information exchange and data interoperability is currently based on various types of documents. When it’s sent electronically, providers usually need to choose a set of data they will transmit and then only create a message that will contain that specific data and nothing else.

This type of approach does manage to provide successful communication, but it is almost useless for things such as data analytics, care coordination, or even decision making.

For example, we can look at another attempt taken to improve interoperability, the Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture (C-CDA). This is a standardized document that provides a great amount of physical information, but the data it provides is static, similar to a PDF.

This means that, while you will be able to read the data, it will be impossible to extract and use it in any other format. This kind of document-based exchange has one big flaw – it doesn’t give the provider context of the data they received.

FHIR manages to solve this issue because it uses a standardized application programming interface (API) standards and allows its developers to create apps that surpass the outdated, document-based format. Data can be moved back and forth without data reconciliation challenges.

Why you should get excited

If you’re not already excited about FHIR, it’s time to get on the same page as many other patients and providers who are eagerly awaiting this change. FHIR is going to create an internet-based experience in healthcare that customers already enjoy from other industries.

FHIR also has a great potential to be the missing link between patient-generated health data (PGHD) tools and the EHR. The pool of these tools is growing every day with things such as diet apps, FitBits, blood glucose monitors, and so on.

And while users are excited about these tools, they aren’t helpful to providers because they don’t have easy access to the most important parts of that data. Physicians want their data to be presented to them in a way that’s both useful and actionable to them, as only then will it be truly valuable.

FHIR may solve that problem with situation-specific apps that are built directly on its platform, which will be able to analyze any type of patient-generated health data. After this analysis, the app will be able to give users a summary of how they can manage their chronic diseases and take care of their health.

Another benefit is that a personal health record will integrate data from different formats to create a complete picture of the patient’s health condition, issues, and medicines. It won’t matter if you’re seeing multiple doctors who are using different EHRs, you can be at peace knowing they have all of the necessary information.  

Final thoughts

The future of healthcare is here, and it’s FHIR. As time goes by and technology keeps advancing, soon enough EHR is going to look very much like your phone and be filled with a plethora of useful apps. 

FHIR is the future and it’s time to embrace it because it will make everyone’s lives much easier.

Applications are starting to take over, just like in almost every other aspect of our lives, and they will probably change the look of EHR and how it operates sooner than some people realize.