FHIR stands for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources. Developed by Health Level Seven International (commonly known as HL7), it’s an interoperability specification for the exchange of healthcare information electronically. The aim of FHIR is to address the growing digitization of the healthcare industry and the need for patient records to be readily “available, discoverable, and understandable.” Here’s a closer look at FHIR, its potential benefits and challenges.
Definition of FHIR
FHIR is a standard developed by HL7 in response to the growing use of electronic health records (EHRs) and aims to “simplify implementation without sacrificing information integrity.” To do this, FHIR “leverages existing logical and theoretical models to provide a consistent, easy to implement, and rigorous mechanism for exchanging data between healthcare applications.” The goal is to build a base set of resources that satisfy the majority of common use cases. FHIR can be used as a stand-alone data exchange standard or in conjunction with existing standards.
How FHIR Works
Designed specifically for the Internet, FHIR is built upon the concept of “resources” – any content that is exchangeable – which are used as building blocks that can be incorporated in existing systems. Resources must have:
- A common definition and method of representation
- A common set of metadata
- A human readable part
Resources are based on the following structures:
The aim is to create a framework that can be used to extend and adapt resources and can be interpreted by any system, no matter how it was developed. FHIR can be used in a variety of applications, including mobile apps, cloud communications, EHRs, and more.
Benefits of FHIR
Essentially, the goal of FHIR is to standardize the exchange of healthcare information, enabling healthcare providers and administrators to easily share patient information even when they’re using different software systems. With FHIR, each resource is associated with a unique identifier. Much like URLs make it easy to find a specific web page regardless of the device or browser you’re using, FHIR makes it possible to access the right information from any application or device.
By creating standard URLs for packets of information, FHIR eliminates the need to exchange individual documents or data back and forth between systems, while ensuring that disparate applications can point to the right information, and the same version of that information, simultaneously. This would allow developers to build more user-friendly applications with web-browser-esque functionality that ensure fast, reliable access to accurate data regardless of the EHR or other application being used, which in turn offers the potential for several benefits, such as:
- Easy implementation
- Improves the speed of healthcare delivery by making data readily accessible
- Standardizes and structures data for automated clinical support and other machine-based processing
- Eliminates the time-consuming document-based exchange of information, feeding information directly into workflows
FHIR also offers built-in traceability mechanisms to HL7 RIM and other content models to support alignment with existing best practices, even if they don’t have a deep understanding of RIM or other deviations of HL7 v3.
While it’s great in theory, FHIR isn’t yet ready for prime time, and it’s also not without its challenges. In fact, FHIR shares many of the same challenges of HL7 integration – namely, that if different versions of FHIR are implemented in different systems, the two systems aren’t actually interoperable at all. Other inconsistencies result when EHR vendors don’t implement all available FHIR APIs – or if they do, they don’t implement the entire API. These inconsistencies undermine the goal of achieving interoperability.
API solutions like Emissary® make interoperability not only practical and cost-effective, but also user-friendly – a must in the modern landscape. Emissary uses a robust set of universal, real-time REST APIs and a unified data model to standardize EHR integration, offering read and write capabilities with any EHR. Emissary supports the seamless exchange of health information between EHR platforms, clinical, and administrative applications, providing crucial real-time access to patient health information, including both clinical and administrative data, without sacrificing the security of PHI.
Thanks to Emissary’s use of universal APIs and a unified data model, you don’t need to worry about disparate applications having implemented different versions of FHIR, having implemented only certain FHIR APIs or failing to implement a particular FHIR API in full. That means no more copying and faxing patient records to different departments and health systems to collaborate on patient care – and you don’t even need to wait for lengthy integration projects to start seamlessly exchanging healthcare information. And like FHIR promises, Emissary puts essential information into any workflow in real-time for use in clinical decision support and beyond.