Microsoft releases FHIR Server for Azure to empower developers

A Microsoft open source project—based on HL7’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources standard—is looking to empower developers to exchange and manage clinical health data in the cloud.

Microsoft Healthcare’s FHIR Server for Azure, an open source project on GitHub, provides support infrastructure for “immediate provisioning in the cloud including mapping to Azure Active Directory as well as the ability to enable role-based access controls,” according to the vendor.

Heather Jordan Cartwright, general manager of Microsoft Healthcare, made the announcement about the release of FHIR Server for Azure on Monday in a blog post, emphasizing that this open source project will make it easier for organizations working with healthcare data to leverage the cloud for clinical data processing and machine learning workloads.

“In almost every facet of healthcare, the ambition to create and deliver AI exceeds the tools available to deliver it—FHIR Server for Azure provides a foundation to address that problem,” wrote Cartwright. “Working with data in the FHIR format, developers can use the server to quickly ingest and manage FHIR datasets in a cloud environment, track and manage data access, and begin to normalize data for machine learning workloads.”

She also noted that FHIR Server for Azure is just the beginning for Microsoft as the company plans to “enable a broad set of core services in the Microsoft Cloud to support healthcare interoperability standards like FHIR.”

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Signage displayed outside the Microsoft Corp. main campus in Redmond, Washington, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

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According to Cartwright, Microsoft’s initial release of FHIR Server for Azure supports FHIR Standard for Trial Use (STU) 3—the current version of the FHIR API.

“We have been actively engaged with HL7 and the FHIR community to support the standards development process for FHIR R4 and are excited about the forthcoming publication of FHIR R4,” she adds. “We plan to support FHIR R4 in a future version of FHIR Server for Azure, once the R4 specification has been finalized and published by HL7.”

In September, Micky Tripathi, manager of the Argonaut Project, an industry-wide effort to accelerate the development and adoption of FHIR, served as a judge at HL7’s FHIR Applications Roundtable in Washington, where Microsoft’s Michael Hansen gave a presentation on Azure API management. Tripathi said the presentation was well received and won “best of show” on the second day of the roundtable.

“How many people in this room would ever have guessed a year ago that Microsoft would have won something like this?” Tripathi recalled asking the audience at the HL7 FHIR conference.

FHIR Server for Azure “is up and running and really could be something that’s very valuable to some organizations,” he adds.

Chuck Jaffe, MD, CEO of HL7, says he has spoken with Peter Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft Healthcare who has indicated that the vendor is “all in” when it comes to FHIR.

“Everyone was skeptical until our FHIR Applications Roundtable when they actually demoed it,” Jaffe concluded.

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