The Rising Importance of FHIR in Data-Driven Healthcare

Chris Ingersoll
Wed 12 Oct 2022
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Interoperability and FHIR are critical foundational capabilities to realize transformational value from healthcare data. Ultimately, this will improve the patient experience, increase the efficiency and quality of care, and further improve researchers’ and doctors’ ability to understand diseases and find new treatments. FHIR can open up data that is otherwise siloed and difficult to access. It can certainly help advance healthcare instead of just simplifying data access and sharing. In one of our recent blogs, I covered the evolution of interoperability standards and how FHIR came into existence. There is no doubt that FHIR offers many benefits, but is it enough to propel healthcare into the realm of interoperability?

Embracing FHIR for its Advanced Capabilities

Data has become the make-or-break factor while implementing advanced care strategies. When it comes to data regulations, FHIR always seems to be in the spotlight and healthcare embraces it for various reasons. It can help:

Provide Secure, Fast, and Easy Access to Clinical Data The regulated FHIR standard aims to simplify the health information exchange process by enabling secure, fast, and easy access and use of clinical data. This can help eliminate redundant data entry and ensure patients have more control over their health information while helping people work together and share information more easily.

Reduce and Optimize Care Costs

For EHRs to be used efficiently in care delivery, clinicians need an accurate view of what has been done for a particular patient at any time. This longitudinal view is also critical for the analytics that can help healthcare organizations identify care gaps and optimize care management and costs for distinct clinical groupings of patients.

With fast and accurate data enabled by FHIR, healthcare providers can make informed decisions based on complete and clean data, leading to cost savings in multiple ways. It can reduce administrative burden and boost efficiency in EHRs, allowing clinicians to spend more time with patients.

Allow Enhanced Data Management

The widely acknowledged FHIR standard drives consistency in the structure and formats of data sharing. It is built on existing standards and terminologies as used in previous HL7 versions allowing organizations to be more efficient while still being compliant with regulations like HIPAA.

It simplifies the transfer of data from one platform to another. If two systems are not connected, for instance, there are many steps needed to get the information from one place to another—wasting both time and money. With a common standard like FHIR, it becomes much easier to move different types of information between platforms as needed.

Streamline Coordinated Care

In the disjointed care journey, clinicians need to seize opportunities that help them work together more effectively to enable coordinated care. When all caregivers can easily access a patient's records, it will help ensure that a patient is receiving high-quality care from providers who have access to their full medical history and other important health information.

For example, when there are multiple specialists involved in treating a single patient, FHIR can be used to share information between doctors and coordinate care seamlessly. Additionally, when providers talk to each other using standardized terminology (e.g., using ICD codes), there is a greater chance that they are talking about the same thing when they mention certain symptoms or diagnoses. These standards will also allow for easier research on medical conditions or treatments—which ultimately benefit everyone through an improved understanding of our care journeys and the diseases we face.

Enable a Developer-Friendly Environment

With the changing needs in healthcare, FHIR evolved as an interoperability standard. One of the key advantages of FHIR is that it is developer-friendly as it uses an open-source architecture, which means anyone can contribute. FHIR employs many popular, modern web technologies such as RESTful services, HTTP-based protocols, XML, JSON, ATOM, and OAuth. Hence, developers can create interfaces in their language of choice.

Still, Why is FHIR not Enough?

The advanced nature of FHIR allows healthcare systems to be treated as interoperable systems in a robust and flexible manner. It provides a standard way to package digital health information at the point of care with new and innovative consumer or provider applications. Although it greatly improves legacy approaches, it is also just another way to move information from point A to point B.

However, it does not address data quality and the variance in how well information is entered, coded, and duplicated. Low-quality data exchanged via FHIR is still low-quality data—garbage in, garbage out.

Moreover, FHIR does not address how to identify the same patient across different systems, which often requires complex logic based on patient demographics. Nor does it incorporate a mechanism on how to reconcile multiple sources of information to establish a “golden” record, including de-duplication, roll-up, and handling inconsistencies.

And of course, the reality is that FHIR is only partially adopted today across the industry and within systems at a given organization. Legacy interoperable standards such as HL7 V2 and V3 are still the mechanisms for interoperability for many systems as proprietary and custom approaches.

To truly realize the value of a longitudinal patient record and drive unique experiences and advanced analytics, FHIR is a critical piece of the puzzle. The whole story of healthcare data management leverages FHIR as the preferred, but not exclusive way to integrate data from clinical systems into a platform that aggregates and curates quality patient data. This provides an inclusive approach that truly establishes a foundation for digital transformation.


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Chris Ingersoll

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