Things are Heating Up in Healthcare Data Sharing and FHIR is the New Big Deal


When someone says they’re putting your medical records on FHIR, don’t make a mad dash for the fire extinguisher. FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) is a new data transmission standard for healthcare data, such as medical records. How new? While the groundwork for FHIR has been underway for several years, FHIR Release 3, the first FHIR version intended for broad release, was published just three months ago. Although a complete youngster in the world of data technology, FHIR has already gained broad industry support.

Although FHIR is new to the scene, it is based upon the past two decades of findings from implementing the HL7 standards for health care data exchange. Both FHIR and HL7 are published by the same organization, Health Level Seven International. The successes, challenges, and limitations of implementing HL7 served as a valuable pool of knowledge in the development of a newer, more modern data exchange standard.

What is FHIR?

Simply put, FHIR is a data exchange standard based on the basic data structure of a resource. All exchangeable content is defined as a resource. Resources all share the following set of characteristics:

  • A common way to define and represent them
  • A common set of metadata
  • A human readable part

One of the distinguishing characteristics of FHIR is that it specifies both a human-readable and machine-readable format from the same data resource, thus preserving data integrity while supplying human-consumable and system information jointly. Due to its flexible format, FHIR can be used as a stand-alone data exchange standard or used in partnership with existing widely used standards, including HL7.

What needs does FHIR address?

FHIR delivers several advantages over previous data exchange standards, including easier implementation and interoperability with a wider variety of systems and devices. FHIR was designed with the web and mobile technologies in mind, taking advantage of web-friendly RESTful architecture and open internet standards. FHIR resources are simple XML or JSON structures, with predictable URLs for each resource, making them extremely friendly to web and mobile technology.

HL7 evolved from the need to share data across proprietary, closed health data systems. FHIR evolved from the need to share health information securely across the web to multiple open systems and a multitude of device types (web browsers, desktop machines, legacy systems, mobile devices, tablets) in real time. FHIR lends itself to real-time representations (charts, graphs, diagrams) of rapidly changing underlying data.

FHIR and Community Care Coordination

Many of the advantages of FHIR — easy implementation, reusable data, high degree of flexibility, and mobile-enablement — are necessary for enabling community care coordination in a health neighborhood. Organizations participating in a health neighborhood must have a care coordination platform that supports the HL7 standard for health data transfer among systems. Adding FHIR is a natural progression to achieving real-time views into rapidly changing data, such as patient admissions, discharges, treatments, care delivered, and resources utilized. FHIR expands both the types of data and the ways the data can be used, displayed, and queried within the care coordination platform.

If you have a need to exchange health care data across systems — medical notes, visit records, prescription information, care plans, behavioral care data, or other medical information — FHIR can simplify your data exchange process to deliver actionable, real-time data.

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