A Guide to Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR)

FHIR is growing interest as the standard for easily and securely exchanging healthcare data. What is it and what does it means for healthcare providers? Below we answer some frequently asked questions:

Q: What is driving innovation in healthcare? 

The way we are paying for healthcare in America is fundamentally changing. This shift in payment is changing what doctors and hospitals are looking for in their tech healthcare solutions. It used to be, I want to submit a bill, get paid for the care that I have been documenting laboriously into my records so that I can earn my payment. Today we are digitizing what was previously documented in manila folders, so that we can actually exchange that information and coordinate care better whether or not that patient is seen by me or a fellow doctor, or a nurse practitioner – we’re on the same page.

We are now beginning to see what was once in the manila folders and now in digital forms in electronic systems be exposed as discrete pieces of data that can fuel connected apps that make better sense of this system.

Q: What is FHIR?

FHIR is a common language to request medications, problem lists, a list of folks in the care team, that which the government has regulated, the common clinical data set. This democratizes access so even developers with very limited healthcare experience can more rapidly build what is in the best interest of patients. The FHIR API is really about democratizing access to healthcare – a common language and a universal plug.

Q: How is FHIR different from other attempts at improving interoperability?

Currently other health information exchange and data interoperability is based on documents, which can be too limiting to use for meaningful information. For example, I want to know which patients have had a blood pressure that’s been elevated in the time since we’ve lasted visited. Well, it used to be that I would have to rummage through all of theirs records, but today I can literally ask for that blood pressure and figure out of all of the patients who have had blood pressure checks, which ones are elevated.

Q: What are the barriers to adoption?

A real barrier has been concerns that the app developer will ever get access, or that they might get paid for whatever service they offer. Ideally a dozen health systems adopt the FHIR API and they invite at least some patients to test out connecting the API. Success here will motivate others to join.