Digital Health 101January 9, 2022

Benefits of the FHIR Standard

Capable Health Team

Every industry has been touched by the shift to a digital-first world and healthcare is no different. Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the corresponding rise of telehealth, electronic medical collaboration has become more important than ever. With this need for collaboration comes an increased demand for the sharing of electronic medical information in a secure and streamlined way, offering the best care for patients and ease of use for healthcare providers.

To meet all of their healthcare needs most patients are seeing multiple providers across different practices. This may be a primary care doctor, a dentist, an OBGYN for women, and various other specialists depending on specific need, such as a psychiatrist or physical therapist. With each of these practitioners comes a new set of digital documents and healthcare records across different patient portals. Patients expect to be able to access this information and providers need to be able to collaborate by sharing important information across systems. 

The FHIR standard was devised to facilitate this secure sharing of data and communication across various systems. FHIR does not have a security protocol or is opinionated on how to store data. However, it does define an “Audit resource,” which tracks the origins, history, status, and access of resources and user/client authentication to identify people, devices, locations, and organizations that access the data.

The FHIR standard protects the exchange of medical information in the digital age, making sure the sharing of electronic medical data is secure, healthcare consumers are protected, and providers can easily access patient charts.

What is the FHIR Medical Standard?

FHIR, or Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, is the standard for the electronic sharing of healthcare information and records, set by Health Level Seven International (HL7). HL7 is a global nonprofit organization that sets the framework and structure for the exchange of electronic health information for clinical practice and management.

The increased push to digitize health records in the last few years had left much of the data siloed on proprietary systems without the ability to exchange that data. FHIR allows patients the ability to access their electronic health records (EHRs) between various providers

“Interoperability” within FHIR refers to the ability of different computer systems to exchange information and work in tandem. “Resources” is the term for the modular components that build the technology for the FHIR standard. Together, FHIR represents how developers and medical professionals should implement software to uphold standards for the sharing of medical data with efficiency and protection.

The FHIR standard is important because it allows for the efficient exchange of clinical and administrative data while keeping information secure. Files are constantly shared throughout the healthcare system, and without upholding standards, important patient information could easily be compromised. Ensuring the privacy and protection of patients is crucial to the safety and security of the healthcare industry and FHIR helps meet this challenge of the digital age.

Patients today expect providers to be able to collaborate across healthcare systems and FHIR makes it clear how to do so. Medical information must be available while also being secure. Patients put their trust in providers and, in turn, electronic health record systems. Adherence to FHIR matters for the sake of the patient and maintaining data integrity in healthcare systems.

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How Do You Create Communication Using the FHIR Standard?

The FHIR standard is built on modular resources, a format for basic data exchange. HL7 states that, “The philosophy behind FHIR is to build a base set of resources that, either by themselves or when combined, satisfy the majority of common use cases.” The idea is to allow collaboration across systems by providing a common set of rules. “FHIR resources aim to define the information contents and structure for the core information set that is shared by most implementations.”

The resources of FHIR each have a tag with a unique identifier for the information it holds, similar to a URL for a web page. This allows developers to build standardized applications that work across different EHR systems or EMR systems to provide access to data.

Developers can use the core resources of FHIR to best fit each clinical use case while meeting the FHIR standard. FHIR resources can include metadata, text, and other data elements. Resources can also be a collection of clinical documents, which makes the sharing of those documents easier and more straightforward for providers and system users.

FHIR includes a common set of application program interfaces (APIs), pieces of code that allow for data transmission. This allows for back-end structures that facilitate easy and accurate communication between healthcare systems. The use of APIs also helps FHIR go above the limits of document-based systems to make it easier to read and access healthcare data. FHIR also has bulk access implementation, which allows organizations to export large segments of patient data to aid in analysis and reporting.

FHIR is intended for a variety of end users, but designed to provide engineers an interface using familiar technologies and standards. FHIR helps new developers to build healthcare related apps.

Benefits of the FHIR Standard

The FHIR standard helps the backends of electronic healthcare systems run smoothly for developers as well as for practitioners and patients. Some of the benefits of FHIR, according to HL7, include:

  • Secure transfer of medical information and data

  • Ease of use for developers and medical professionals

  • Offers better healthcare experiences for patients who expect professionals to be able to exchange electronic health records

  • Free to use with no restrictions

  • Fast and easy implementation

  • Applicable to many types of technology including apps and cloud communications

  • Clear specifications

  • Support for RESTful architectures

  • Flexible and adaptable to varying healthcare systems and local requirements

  • Strong foundation in web standards

  • Resources carry human-readable text display options for clinical safety

  • Ensures consistency across digital healthcare ecosystems

These are just some of the many benefits offered by the FHIR standard. It streamlines the protocol process and makes following these standards clear and easy for developers.

When Did FHIR Become the Standard?

FHIR was first presented in May 2012 and has evolved through four releases since its inception. FHIR was created to address the new complexities brought on by the increasing usage of digital data exchange in healthcare. It began as a draft with 49 resources and now has 145 resources with ongoing expansion in the works. FHIR continues to evolve to meet the needs of the health information technology community.

Examples of How FHIR Works in Practice

The management of medical records and data can quickly get very complicated, especially considering the many providers a patient sees, across many different healthcare practices, each of which may have its own health record management system. FHIR can help resolve problems that arise from these complex systems or decrease the likelihood of them happening in the first place. 

For example, mergers are increasingly common in private healthcare, and when they occur, medical records must be combined across disparate practices. What happens when each healthcare practice runs on a different EHR system? FHIR facilitates this merger by allowing a separate server to host the data while allowing the two different systems to access it. When FHIR is implemented from the start, these challenges are mitigated by incorporating common resources that allow for data exchange across platforms.

How to Ensure You’re Following the FHIR Standard

Following protocol is vital in the healthcare industry, which includes protecting electronic information. The FHIR standard sets the protocol for managing private and protected electronic information for each patient but also meets the needs of providers. 

So how can you ensure you’re following the FHIR standard? 

Working with strong developers who know the healthcare industry is a start. 

Capable Health is a purpose-built developer platform to build best-in-class consumer health apps, the first API-driven platform dedicated to powering patient onboarding and engagement. Capable takes care of signup, onboarding, care plans, goal tracking, content delivery, secure messaging—the API middleware powering modern patient-facing healthcare experiences.

Capable Health developers match secure data standards to expedite your healthcare software development.

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