Everything You Wanted to Know About FHIR (But Never Dared to Ask)

By Daniel Messer, Vice President of Technology Integration and CIO, Digital Health, PSI Global

Imagine: your primary care physician using their electronic medical records to access– with your consent— your health information from Apple’s iHealth application.

The perk? The provider is up to speed on your real-time health updates. They, therefore, can more effectively and efficiently deliver tailored care specific to your needs.

To simplify consumers’ journeys to care, health systems need electronic medical records that ensure continuity of care no matter consumers’ entry point to health services.

That’s a reality with Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR). We’re here to demystify what FHIR is – and how it can support health systems to deliver quality, consumer powered care.

What is Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR)?

FHIR is a standard that describes how to collect, store, use, exchange, and distribute patient and health data regardless of the application used. FHIR has been developed and is supported by a community of practice, which is rapidly growing and has the support of key partners like Google and the WHO. Organizations like PSI benefit and contribute to this movement by investing in a more comprehensive approach with focus on interoperability at-scale.

FHIR has been integrated into the World Health Organization’s (WHO) SMART Guidelines (a combination of FHIR and the Clinical Quality Language [CQL]). Countries that embrace(or  WHO Smart Guidelines and FHIR in their digital innovations can adapt new platforms into their existing digital ecosystem.

What is interoperability? How does FHIR enable interoperability?

Interoperability is the ability of data systems to exchange and use data from one another. In the past actors tried to find or design one data system to serve all HIS (Health Information System) needs and help with analytics to track health system measures. It later emerged that one data system to complete all needs was not realistic, but rather developing multiple systems with standards that facilitate interoperability and layering interventions have additive benefits increasing impact.

The theoretical and actual achievement of interoperability is varied, and dependent on the data structure of the digital intervention; it is anticipated that FHIR will further these goals. Through the continued use of FHIR, PSI and the community of practice can better address the need expressed by health system owners to have either one data system to meet all their needs or multiple systems with interoperability to increase collaboration and local ownership of digital interventions.

How does FHIR and interoperability support consumers, health workers and the health system?

The utility of FHIR and interoperability for our consumers is the easy and safe transfer of data between systems. Consumers have increased access to their health information and can facilitate transfer of their records between systems while having full control over their data. FHIR increases the ability for communication at all levels of healthcare. The capacity for assessing population health can be expanded, communication with consumers regarding their own health journeys can be increased, and communication with providers on community needs and workforce development can be improved.

By standardizing data collection and format, FHIR apps will output data that is well labeled, structured, and linked to defined schemas facilitating developments in advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). The developments in AI and FHIR are critical for creating machine learning based models that rely on large amounts of training data for analytics and modeling. WHO’s SMART guidelines include data models and clinical logic, in a machine-readable format that can be executed in a FHIR native app to increase automation. Pre-defined workflows could encompass entire health areas and ideally directly imported into Digital Health apps.

Forward Look: PSI’s Digital Health Commitment

FHIR is more than a backend architecture and set of standards, it is a way to amplify and maximize the impact of digital interventions. Integrating FHIR into the digital solutions PSI develops moves us closer to our commitments and adds value to consumers of our digital interventions. Our goal: consumers can share and access their data with providers at their own convenience to make informed decisions and get better healthcare thanks to interoperable client focused digital health systems and services.

Will you join the work? Email [email protected]

There’s more. Explore where PSI will be at the Global Digital Health Forum 2022.

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