What is FHIR? Everything you need to know about the future of healthcare data.

Throughout the last few decades, there has been a continuous trend toward digitization of all (or at least most) healthcare records, which facilitates data interchange and can result in better patient outcomes. 

As patients navigate through the healthcare ecosystem, it is critical that their data is easily accessible, discoverable, and intelligible to users through a reliable digital platform. 

Moreover, this data must adhere to a predetermined format and standards to integrate automation applications and other machine-based processing. With fast healthcare interoperability resources (FHIR), the global healthcare community feels they are on the verge of making global patient data digitalization happen.

If you work in the healthcare business, you may already be familiar with FHIR and HL7, primarily since CMS's new standardization regulations were implemented in the past years. 

For many, these are still hazy concepts—difficult-to-define letters tied to EHR (Electronic Health Record) and the always-frightening threat of heightened regulatory compliance. But have no worries.

Knowing the distinction between HL7 and FHIR might be crucial for your company in the following months and years. With that in mind, here's the relationship between FHIR and HL7: what they are, how they vary, and why it matters for your organization.

What is the distinction between HL7 and FHIR?

FHIR and HL7 are healthcare data exchange standards but differ in several ways. One of the main distinctions is that FHIR takes advantage of RESTful web services and open web technologies like XML, JSON, and RDF, while HL7 only supports XML. This makes FHIR more lightweight and flexible, allowing for exchanging more minor, discrete data elements rather than large messages.

FHIR's RESTful approach makes it easier for developers to create applications to exchange healthcare data more granularly and modularly. It means that developers can create applications that only access the data they need rather than having to parse through large, complex messages.

Another significant difference between FHIR and HL7 is their approach to data modeling. HL7 uses a more rigid data modeling approach, making adding new data elements or resources complex as needed. FHIR, on the other hand, uses a more modular and extensible system that allows for creation of new data elements and resources as needed. It makes FHIR more adaptable to the changing needs of the healthcare industry.

FHIR's open web technologies and modular data modeling approach make it a more flexible and adaptable standard than HL7. FHIR will likely become an increasingly important standard for exchanging healthcare data as healthcare technology evolves.

Benefits of HL7 FHIR:

The HL7 FHIR Standard is a revolutionary healthcare interoperability solution available for free, with no limitations.

  • Heavy emphasis on implementation.

It means that it is designed to be quick and straightforward to implement, making it an ideal solution for healthcare providers who need to streamline their operations and improve patient outcomes.

  • Standardized healthcare data exchange. 

This standardized approach has reduced errors and improved the overall quality of data exchanged between healthcare providers.

  • Modular and extensible nature. 

This approach to data modeling allows new data elements and resources to be added as needed, making it a flexible technology that can adapt to the ever-changing healthcare landscape. This flexibility has allowed healthcare providers to customize FHIR to meet their unique needs.

  • Ability to co-exist and leverage the previous standards. 

Such as HL7 Version 2 and CDA. This compatibility ensures that FHIR can seamlessly integrate existing systems and workflows, saving time and resources.

  • Out-of-the-box interoperability. 

It means that it is preconfigured to work with other systems and technologies. This interoperability has made it easier for healthcare providers to communicate and share data, ultimately leading to better patient outcomes.

Why is interoperability required?

Interoperability is essential in healthcare because it allows different systems and devices to communicate, enabling healthcare providers to access all relevant patient information in one place. 

Access to relevant healthcare data, regardless of location, dramatically benefits patients, doctors, healthcare providers, funders, governments, and society.

Yet there is an issue. Extensive healthcare IT platforms have sprung up worldwide without the capacity to interchange data quickly. 

Vital patient information is kept in 'data silos,' and older systems still employ emails and faxes to send records, files, and results. Physicians can only treat patients with complete histories, and researchers cannot obtain de-identified data.

FHIR is crucial because it simplifies the process of exchanging healthcare information, making it easier to achieve interoperability.

The benefits of FHIR interoperability are ample, including improved patient care and coordination, reduced costs, and better efficiency.

How does FHIR facilitate interoperability?

FHIR enables the transition from hospital-centric to patient-centric collaborative healthcare, allowing physicians and patients to gain what they need from health IT systems.

Patients can connect with several physicians in various places and healthcare settings while maintaining a single personal health record with a complete history of all their prescriptions, concerns, allergies, and consultations.

Overall, FHIR interoperability is an invaluable asset for advancing the healthcare industry in terms of both functionality and patient outcomes.

A patient who visits their doctor frequently has to supply health information. Despite this, they've most likely filled out the same form several times before. Instead, individuals may arrive in an emergency, unable to answer critical inquiries regarding their current diseases or sensitivities.

FHIR contributes to the safe availability of clinical and administrative information by guaranteeing that different computer systems may 'speak' to one other in different places. It is built using the same technologies that run the internet, so it is quick, simple to use, and well-accepted by the developer community.

FHIR apps can connect directly with FHIR-enabled servers, much as internet users anywhere on the planet may access the same URL.

So, why is FHIR so popular?

  • Interoperability is quick and straightforward.

  • Web-based data exchange.

  • Specifications that are easy to use and concise.

  • Tools and procedures that are well-known.

  • Major vendor assistance.

  • There are several free internet tools and open-source libraries available.

  • A global, lively community is driving the standard.

  • It is suitable for a wide range of applications.

  • Resource summaries that are comprehensible by humans.

What technologies does FHIR run on?

FHIR is based on standard technology such as XML, JSON, HTTP, OAuth, GraphQL, and REST, which makes it easy to implement and integrate with existing systems. 

Additionally, FHIR is an open-source standard, which means it is free to use. It is an accessible option for healthcare providers and developers who may not have the resources to invest in proprietary software or standards.

How FHIR works:

FHIR uses a modular approach to healthcare data exchange, meaning each piece of information is represented as a "resource."

These resources can be combined to create a comprehensive patient record, which can easily exchange between healthcare systems and applications. 

To retrieve the history of a specific resource or version, tools are employed to increase interoperability. The specification is available online, fully hyperlinked, and may be connected from a property's resource to its data type. 

FHIR is divided into three sections: general documentation, implementation, and resource list. Available documentation outlines how resources are defined and provide background information such as data type definitions, codes, and XML and JSON format specifications. Users can utilize RESTful architecture programming interface resources as clinical papers or in a service-based design.

FHIR offers a framework for extending and altering resources so that any system may read them, regardless of how they were created. Extension definitions can be fetched using the exact mechanism as other resources. Each resource may include a human-readable text representation in HTML.

FHIR's concepts for enabling interoperability through well-structured data models include the following:

  • Reuse: To prevent an overcomplicated and duplicate resource collection, FHIR resources are designed to fulfill the broad demands of health care.

  • Performance: Compared to prior standards, FHIR resources are more straightforward in their architecture, making them more suited for network exchange and more accessible for developers to understand and use.

  • Usability: FHIR resources are intended to be understood by both technical professionals and non-technical users.

  • Fidelity: Intermixing values of different data kinds, such as strings and numeric values, is strictly prohibited in FHIR resources. In addition to established sets of business rules, they can be validated by their syntax.

  • Implementability: FHIR's main objective was to build a standard that various development groups would widely adopt.

FHIR resources are intended to be simple to understand and share utilizing industry standards, popular computer languages, and well-established data exchange methods.

FHIR profiles, on the other hand, define how to use resources in a specific context, such as a healthcare organization or application. They provide a set of constraints and extensions limiting how a resource should be used, making it easier to ensure data is exchanged consistently and accurately between different systems and applications. 

FHIR profiles can be used to customize the standard to meet the specific needs of a particular organization or application. They can be shared and reused across different systems and applications, improving interoperability.

Where is FHIR implemented?

In today's healthcare landscape, interoperability is critical to delivering quality patient care. FHIR (fast healthcare interoperability resources) is an emerging standard gaining popularity in exchanging healthcare data between disparate systems. Many well-known organizations already use FHIR to improve data exchange and streamline care coordination.

One such organization is Epic Systems, a leading electronic health record (EHR) vendor that supports FHIR to exchange healthcare data between different EHR systems. Similarly, Cerner Corporation, another major EHR vendor, recognizes the value of FHIR for healthcare data exchange.

Tech giants Apple and Google are also on board with FHIR. Apple's Health app supports FHIR for exchanging healthcare data between different health apps and systems. Meanwhile, Google's Cloud Healthcare API supports FHIR to exchange healthcare data between other healthcare systems.

Microsoft has also developed its FHIR-based solution. The Azure API for FHIR allows developers to build healthcare applications that can exchange data using the FHIR standard.

Government agencies also recognize the benefits of FHIR. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) use FHIR to support healthcare data exchange for quality reporting and other purposes. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) also uses FHIR to support healthcare data exchange between different VHA systems and external partners.

Finally, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has developed the FHIR Implementation Guide for the 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria to support the adoption of FHIR in EHR systems.

Overall, FHIR is used by a wide range of organizations in the healthcare industry, from EHR vendors to government agencies. Its adoption will help improve healthcare data exchange and ultimately improve patient care.

What's next for FHIR?

The FHIR standard is constantly evolving and being updated to meet the changing needs of the healthcare industry. Future developments include the creation of new profiles and resources to support emerging healthcare technologies, as well as the continued expansion of the FHIR community to have more healthcare providers, developers, and stakeholders. 

As FHIR adoption continues to grow, it has the potential to revolutionize the way healthcare information is exchanged and managed, leading to improved patient outcomes and a more efficient and effective healthcare system.

Our expertise in implementing FHIR

Implementing FHIR is an essential step toward improving healthcare interoperability and patient outcomes. 

As FHIR adoption continues to grow, it has the potential to revolutionize the way healthcare information is exchanged and managed. 

Our healthcare development team is experienced in creating scalable applications that meet the high demands of the healthcare market. We can help you with a wide range of specialized services, including: 

  • Backend development for high-load projects: Our experts have experience in software development for high-load healthcare projects and understand the complexities of this market. 

  • FHIR-first development: We can start from scratch to build an app corresponding to the FHIR standards, covering research, prototyping, design, and development phases.

  • FHIR facade development: If you already have a functional system that needs to be improved to work with FHIR interoperability requirements, we will ensure it meets all standards. 

It is crucial for healthcare providers and developers to stay up-to-date and continue to explore new ways to leverage the benefits of this critical standard.

Why choose us?

Devstark offers a range of services related to FHIR implementation, including FHIR consulting services, SMART on FHIR web and mobile apps, and custom profiling mechanisms. 

Additionally, we can analyze your current state, create a detailed roadmap for FHIR implementation, and organize data conversion to FHIR standards for existing solutions without the risk of data loss or breakage. 

Contact us today for a free consultation and learn how we can help you implement FHIR in your healthcare organization or application. 

Our expertise in FHIR compliance, understanding of requirements and industry standards, and proactive approach to development can help you optimize costs and time while improving patient outcomes. 

Let us guide you through the process of FHIR implementation and improve your healthcare initiatives!

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