Pushing Interoperability Forward with FHIR

October 10, 2016

It has been two years since Health Level Seven International (HL7) first released Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) as a data exchange “Draft Standard for Trial Use.” While a Normative Edition for general use isn’t anticipated until 2017, headway has already been made with the next-generation standards framework.

By coupling the best of previous data standard formats like HL7 versions 2 and 3 and Clinical Document Architecture (CDA) with modern, web-based API technology, FHIR is helping to make interoperability quicker, easier and cheaper for the healthcare industry to achieve. In addition to simplifying the transfer of health data between existing and legacy health IT systems for providers, FHIR also brings new potential for integrating data from mobile apps and medical devices to the HIT scene.

To date, FHIR-based solutions have been piloted in provider organizations, public health, precision medicine, genomics and BioPharma. Shortly after the introduction of FHIR, the Argonaut Project emerged to lead the charge in developing a first-generation FHIR-based API to advance the exchange of electronic health records. The willingness of competitive organizations to come together under the initiative sent a clear message that many in the industry were ready for change. Other high-profile groups like CommonWell Health Alliance and the SMART Platforms Project (SMART on FHIR) are also advancing interoperability efforts using FHIR.

In June, HL7 and Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) renewed an agreement between the two organizations to “advance the goal of interoperability of health information.” Specifically, the collaboration is focused on coordinating efforts related to expediting the development and adoption of FHIR standards. Connectathon events held by the groups help assess the maturity of FHIR implementations.

More recently, HL7 held its inaugural FHIR Applications Roundtable at Harvard Medical School in July to showcase some of the latest innovative ways vendors and providers are paving the way to interoperability using FHIR. Thirty-four fifteen-minute sessions highlighted FHIR’s use in apps ranging from pediatrics to clinical decision support.

Among the FHIR Applications Roundtable sessions were recent winners of an ONC Challenge grant aimed at improving the flow of health information in health organizations. Two of the seven initiatives awarded by ONC are rooted in FHIR.

Two other ONC-sponsored data-sharing app challenges – the Consumer Health Data Aggregator and Provider User Experience challenges – focus specifically on leveraging FHIR to make patient and provider health data access easier. Phase 1 winners of each challenge were announced in July and Phase 2 submissions are due by November 7, 2016.

FHIR is also cropping up in countless other arenas. FHIR standards will help form the basis for the FDA’s new Medical Device Development Network. McKesson recently launched its Intelligence Hub interoperability platform built on the FHIR platform. Even Google’s recent acquisition of integration firm Apigee portends of the promise that FHIR’s open API economy offers.

If the draft standard’s blossoming adoption rate is any indication, HL7 may be right: interoperability through FHIR is not a pipe dream, but a burgeoning reality.