The healthcare industry is going through a digital transformation. Healthcare records are increasingly becoming digitized to ensure that patients’ electronic health records are available, discoverable and understandable as people move around the healthcare eco-system. Healthcare is one industry where the Internet of Things is not just for fun, but rather a life-saving, life-sustaining measure. Along with that, the healthcare industry faces extreme pressure to comply with myriad government regulations. With the compliance mandate in full force, managers in healthcare operations, IT and security must think innovatively on how interoperate with their partners and how to better work internally in order to keep their resources focused. The goal is to be truly innovative and differentiated while keeping healthcare costs down for customers and insurance carriers.
The healthcare industry is pacing itself to be an example of how to open up and collaborate in order to compete on a whole new level. By working together on a standard resource and API definition, the industry will open up resources to focus on technology and innovations that will provide for better healthcare outcomes instead of proprietary integrations and data transformations for hospital technical operations.
Enter Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR® )
The HL7® FHIR® specification is a standard for exchanging healthcare information. FHIR® is based on emerging industry approaches and stems from the 20 plus years of lessons learned around requirements, successes and challenges gained through defining and implementing HL7® V2, V3 and the RIM, and CDA.
The basic building block of FHIR® is a resource. All exchangeable content is defined as a resource. The philosophy then is to build a base set of resources that can either be used by themselves or when combined satisfy the majority of common use cases.
The example below models the patient resource that references two other resources, Organization and Practitioner:
Embracing Open Collaboration and Free to Use
Healthcare is embracing Open Source philosophies in order to move the industry ahead as a whole. This is a great win for everyone involved in the value chain. Healthcare providers can free themselves from mundane and expensive proprietary integration tasks to focus on differentiating services. Patients get the innovations they need for more affordable and effective healthcare.
The FHIR® specification is owned by HL7.org. HL7® is making the FHIR® specification freely available to the FHIR® community. The FHIR® community is very large and distinguished. There are representatives from companies such as athenaHealth, The Mayo Clinic, McKesson, Partners HealthCare Systems and many more leaders in the healthcare industry. One of the main tenets of the FHIR® specification is that it is to be free for use with no restrictions. You do not have to be a member to use it. This will ensure broad adoption, increased interoperability, and fast and easy implementation as everyone uses and contributes to the specification.
Embracing Web Technologies
FHIR lays down four guiding principles for technology and dependencies:
- FHIR supports multiple exchange paradigms/architectures.
- FHIR leverages common web technologies.
- FHIR is forward and backward compatible.
- Tooling requirements are mainstream and minimal.
The guiding principles are put in place to help FHIR® be strong and resilient to the various technology forces that will apply pressure over time. The FHIR® standard should allow for different architectural approaches that are appropriate for the given circumstances, whether being used to gather info from an IoT device, a web app, mobile phone or legacy systems. Using common Web technologies allows FHIR® to focus on the unique aspects of health care rather then technical issues of healthcare proprietary technologies. Non-inter-version compatibility is extremely important and has been a barrier to interoperability. Non-inter-version compatibility is a reason why later versions of HL7® didn’t perform well. Finally, ease of implementation by leveraging mainstream technologies with little additional baggage will again drive the adoption of the standard and allow the health care to focus on health care differentiation and not infrastructure.
Role Model for Other Industries
The health care industry is a role model, coming together to work on a standard in order to raise the bar to enable innovation. Granted, it is still a work in progress.
I have worked with several other industries that would benefit from this type of standardization around resources and APIs. Not only would the companies benefit, but their consumers would benefit as well. Individual companies in multiple industries have asked me if there are standards or consortiums for their industry several times. It is not that easy, though. Most industries are very competitive and the leap of faith you need to cooperate with your competitors is hard to grasp. We can hope though. Imagine the possibilities when you are not spinning resources on proprietary integrations and operations.
To learn more about FHIR® http://www.hl7.org/fhir/