FHIR, Interoperability

FHIR: The Future of Healthcare Application Development

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) is an innovative technology making its way into the healthcare industry. FHIR allows clinical applications to access patient data outside of the EHR while remaining standards compliant. Here’s what you need to know about FHIR and the future of healthcare applications.

What Exactly is FHIR?

FHIR is fairly new in the healthcare industry, but it’s gained a lot of traction and credibility quickly. It was developed in 2014 as part of a draft standard to allow developers to build applications that could retrieve and use data from an EHR. Previously, it was extremely difficult to take data created by one EHR system and transfer the files or information to another. Manual manipulation of files was usually needed, a time-consuming process which increased the likelihood of error. FHIR was designed to improve the interoperability between platforms so that applications could be created to increase the utility of massive amounts of data for clinicians and healthcare professionals.

The Substitutable Medical Applications, Reusable Technologies (SMART) platform is where these apps can be created. SMART is an open source platform that allows developers to create secure apps to access healthcare data directly within the EHR. This means that data can be shared more efficiently through mobile applications, cloud-based platforms, and EHR systems.

In 2017, FHIR became full standard for HL7, though the program is still technically in trial use. FHIR is developed to work online, unlike the previous HL7 formal standard. Many leading EHR developers and healthcare organizations have committed to working with FHIR, promising a future of greater interoperability in healthcare.

Benefits, Drawbacks, and Implications

There are several benefits to combining SMART and FHIR. The combination carries the potential to integrate a nearly limitless amount of health applications into the EHR. Additionally, FHIR meets the Meaningful Use Stage 3 standards, requiring compliance with patient requests to connect their preferred health app to the EHR. Finally, the limitless creative potential of the two technologies combined implies more choices of apps to fit more specific practice needs.

There are a few drawbacks as well. Creating application environments where medical language is accurate without sacrificing usability for patients and those who are less medically informed is an ongoing challenge. Current apps can sometimes lack specific medical information, or conversely, become too focused on clinical language and be of little benefit to the patient. We’re still in the early stages of the technology – future adaptations should improve on past mistakes.