Priming for the future of health data interoperability with FHIR
There are a variety of potential use cases for the data standard, but organizations need to begin work now to facilitate expected data exchange.
The Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources standard has quickly become the most sought-after standard created by HL7 (Health Level Seven) for seamless healthcare data exchange for bringing together fragmented IT systems. With a scaled uptake expected by 2024, developers and vendors are widely adopting validation and testing tools for this framework.
Built to bridge gaps between clinical interoperability and information integrity, FHIR empowers patients and healthcare providers alike. The standard facilitates safe and easy data transfers that can help improve clinical outcomes, give patients the ability to control information-sharing, help stakeholders track and access real-time medical records, and maintain a unified view of medications, allergies and such data accumulated from multiple providers.
FHIR also fosters patient-centric collaborative environments, integrates smoothly with third-party applications or any kind of software, automates data structuring that results in cost savings, and can be channeled for a specific clinical use without disrupting the overall API of the healthcare system.
Accelerating data interoperability
The process of accessing and sharing electronic patient data is often made difficult by a complex brew of tools that measure the patient’s unique characteristics, biological variabilities, changing demands for available care and more, thereby hindering the larger interoperability process as well. Although the healthcare IT industry had created data standards to address this in the past, most of them are limited in scope with a protracted learning curve.
FHIR is designed on the modern concept of “internet addressable resource,” making clinical and administrative information readily available within software systems to provide timely care. It helps developers feed information directly into EHR systems and clinical workflows via modern applications and APIs that go beyond the document-based environment. Further, it enables data transformation right from the individual patient to the patient population level.
Leveraging this transformed data model enables real-time instances such as doctors viewing patient records in a contextualized manner, bundling information from multiple medical devices into data modules that need to be shared across EHRs, and governments promoting the use of FHIR-based applications and APIs to improve healthcare outcomes.
Barriers to seamless data sharing
While two-thirds of payers may have made patient-access APIs available, many health plans have yet to adopt the FHIR standard framework and adapt it to their needs with their own structural changes.
Even though such efforts have fallen to the bottom of priority lists because many healthcare organizations are still grappling with the aftermath of COVID-19, staffing shortages and more, a noticeable dent has been created in managerial interoperability and data exchanging methods. To fully see through FHIR implementation approaches, a few impending themes will need to be addressed.
For one, payers need to see an urgency in improving and enhancing APIs. However, because of low member engagement rates, several technical issues in the system have not been exposed yet. Secondly, FHIR services are relatively new, and the required technical expertise to fully utilize the standard on the cloud is limited.
A third consideration is that transforming from a non-FHIR to a FHIR systems format can be a big lift, especially because many stakeholders involved are not skilled enough for FHIR resources. Finally, the FHIR framework is yet to reach maturity, with many resources still undergoing updates and very few being regulated.
Potential use cases
As the FHIR standard is increasingly used in healthcare, associated benefits like extensible data models, systematized semantics and real-time information exchange have been leveraged to build potential customer applications.
Starting with patient-access APIs, most payers were mandated to implement the same into their systems at the beginning of 2021. These APIs deliver ease of access to all-inclusive clinical and claim data through third-party applications for patients, guiding them in their decision-making process.
Another mandate was passed in 2021 for provider directory APIs, through which provider directory data can be made available to the public, helping third-party developers build innovative applications that translate into holistic patient-centric services.
Further, a payer-to-payer data exchange was also mandated to be provided to patients as per their requests in 2022, expediting a cumulative record of all the information from when they move payer to payer and creating a unified view for better decision-making.
Many individuals monitor their health via third-party health and fitness apps over phones, tablets and other devices. FHIR has the flexibility to integrate these devices with a larger ERH ecosystem by enabling data to be read, written and queried seamlessly. Moreover, FHIR offers the bandwidth to create, store and reference medical documents such as test reports, scans and clinic letters, enabling coordination between changing payer-provider interactions and quick results-driven care.
Getting started with FHIR
Implementing FHIR requires a custom approach tailored to the healthcare organization because every provider is unique.
Getting started with a few common steps, such as studying system requirements, deciding whether to use on-premise hosting or cloud-based healthcare APIs, creating a data platform, setting up an FHIR server, uploading the FHIR framework and reviewing the same on a browser can help advance your efforts in interoperability adoption.
Pradeep Kumar Jain is chief customer officer of HealthEM.AI