The healthcare landscape has been radically transformed by digital technology—from electronic health records (EHRs) to mobile applications and cloud, web-enabled devices have transformed the way we exchange health information and deliver patient care. As new digital technologies are integrated into our healthcare infrastructure, Federal and commercial healthcare providers are increasingly concerned with interoperability and creating a seamless, secure flow of accurate health data information between disparate systems.
For over thirty years, Health Level Seven International (HL7) has developed healthcare information exchange and related standards to automate healthcare data sharing, integration, and retrieval. The organization has produced a number of open standards over the years, such as HL7 v2, HL7 v3, the Reference Information Model (RIM), and Clinical Document Architecture (CDA). However, despite wide adoption, these standards had limited flexibility, inconsistent implementations, and were not cost-efficient.
To address interoperability challenges, HL7 created Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, or FHIR (pronounced “fire”) in 2014 to combine open-source technologies such as API-enabled web services (e.g. REST) with the best features of previous HL7 standards. In layman’s terms, FHIR standardizes the electronic exchange of healthcare data so providers can quickly and securely share patient data across multiple platforms, including mobile phone applications, cloud communications, and EHRs. After gaining extensive support from major EHR vendors like Cerner, Epic, and athenahealth, FHIR is now the gold standard for healthcare interoperability.
How Does FHIR Work?
FHIR is a web-based standard built around the concept of “resources,” or basic units of interoperability and modular components that can be combined and incorporated into existing systems to resolve clinical, administrative and infrastructural problems in healthcare. FHIR standardizes these resources by creating standard URLs for packets of information, eliminating the need to exchange physical documentation or data required by past models. Much like a URL, FHIR has a unique identifier attached to each resource, enabling providers to access the correct information from any device or application. In this way, FHIR creates a seamless transfer of patient data, pointing providers and administrators to the correct and most up-to-date version without having to waste time searching for information.
Major FHIR Benefits
To help clients reach their modernization and standardization goals while maximizing business value, Halfaker builds and integrates HL7’s FHIR into our innovative solutions. The FHIR standard presents several benefits from developer and business perspectives.
- Developer Benefits. Because FHIR leverages HL7’s previously defined patterns and best practices, developers can easily implement the exchange standard to build user-friendly applications without intimate knowledge of previous HL7 standards. As a web-based protocol, developers can use FHIR to easily plug applications into an EHR system and feed information directly into existing provider workflows.
- Business Benefits. FHIR enhances interoperability between disparate systems while protecting information integrity and accelerating healthcare delivery speed with readily accessible data. More flexible than its HL7 predecessors, FHIR can be used alone or in conjunction with other standards to build customized applications that meet specific healthcare provider needs. Healthcare organizations can leverage FHIR to build and integrate applications to address a wide variety of use cases, including increasing patient engagement with mobile applications, developing robust population health management programs, and automating clinical decision support.