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What is FHIR and its benefits and challenges?

November 30, 2019 - by Swati Bansal, Webmedy team


Are you interested in knowing about what FHIR is, how it works and what seems to be the benefits of implying the same?

Standing for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, FHIR is devised by HL7 - Health Level Seven International. It is an interoperability specification that is formulated to exchange healthcare data and information electronically. The purpose behind developing it is to address the booming digitization of the healthcare industry and the requirement to have handy patient records and always in the accessible, understandable and available format. Do you want to know more? Keep on reading and here is the brief of FHIR, along with its need, promising advantages and also the challenges that are faced by others.

With the passing time and years, there has been consistent increase in the usage of EHRs - Electronic Health Records. Catering to so many demand and needs of them, FHIR is been introduced aiming to simplify the implementation process without bearing on the information integrity and authenticity. How FHIR helps with this? It leverages the existing theoretical and logical models and prototypes and provides a simple to execute mechanism to exchange data in between different healthcare applications. The objective is to create a base set of resources that could meet the diversified meet of common use case scenarios. And, FHIR is supposed to be used and implemented as a standalone data exchange standard or in link with the existing ones in a seamless manner. It is one of the fast and efficient alternatives to all document centric strategies as it depicts data elements as services. In fact, many high profile players in the healthcare and informatics field have been showing keen interest in implementing FHIR these days. It includes even the well reckoned pioneers, CommonWell Health Alliance and SMART - Sustainable Medical Applications, Reusable Technologies).

How FHIR - Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources Functions?

FHIR is designed specifically only and only for the internet and it works on the concept of 'resources', leading to any content that could be exchanged in any form, and used as building blocks to imbibe in the existing systems. By the term 'resources', it could be anything, be it a common set of metadata, a human readable part or a method of representation or a common definition. Also, resources need to be based on JSON, XML, Atom, HTTP or OAuth structure. The intent is to build a framework that can be used to adapt or extent resources, to be interpreted and illustrated by any system, irrespective of how it was devised. In fact, FHIR is known to be utilized and accessed in a wide array of applications involving cloud communications, mobile applications, EHRs, etc.

Positives and Advantages of FHIR:

Substantially, the direct of FHIR is to normalize and ease out the exchange of healthcare data, enabling healthcare administrators, service providers and all to share patient information in an easy and trouble free way, even when they are known to be using different software systems. With FHIR, every resource is linked with a unique identifier. Quite similar to be like the URLs help to look out for specific web pages, no matter which web browser or device you have been using, FHIR makes it feasible and easy to get the access to right set of data from any device or an application. Simply by devising standard URLs for different packets of data, FHIR annihilates and cuts down the requirement to exchange individual documents or any information back and forth in between systems along with making sure that the different applications will point out to the right and same set of information at the same time. It will help developers and professionals in creating more intuitive and user friendly applications integrated with web browsers functionality ensuring quick and trustable access to the relevant data irrespective of which EHR or application is been used, leading to several positives. Few of them are been enlisted in below:

  • Easy and hassle-free integration and implementation
  • Enhances the healthcare delivery speed by making data easily accessible and in a readable format
  • Structures and standardizes the data for machine-based processing and other automated clinical support
  • Reduces the time-consuming document-based information exchange system and feeding in the information in direct into workflows
  • Offers inbuilt traceability mechanisms to HL7 RIM and other content based models supporting alignment with the existing practices and prototypes, even if they don't have any knowledge of RIM or any other deviation of HL7 v3

FHIR Challenges and the Solution:

Like every offering or technology comes with its own pros and cons, so does FHIR. The adoption of FHIR has its own challenges. FHIR is supposed to be sharing and highlighting the similar challenges of HL7 integration, particularly if different versions of them are implemented in different systems than those two systems are not interoperable at all.

There are other inconsistencies or lacunas as well that occur when EHR vendors don't implement all the existing FHIR APIs and even in the case, they do, then also they don't implement the entire API. These discrepancies undermine the objective and purpose of attaining interoperability.

Wondering, what is the solution for this? There is a feasible solution to all. API solutions and functionality can make the process seamless and efficient, and one of them is 'Integrate' that is cost-effective and practical and make the process user-friendly in the advanced technological landscape. The Integrate functionality utilizes real-time REST APIs and a vast set of universal and unified data model in order to standardize EHR integration and implementation, offering read and write capabilities and functions with any EHR. It even supports the smooth and consistent exchange of the healthcare data and information in between EHR platforms, administrative and clinical based applications, rendering crucial real-time access to patient health record or data, without compromising or bearing in the security or authenticity of PHI. All thanks to the technology and Integrate function of the universal APIs along with a unified data model that actually made it possible to not even think about different applications being executed in different FHIR versions anymore. It also leads to the benefit of no more worrying about copying and faxing of patient records and distributing across different health systems and departments collaborating on patient health care. Also, there is no need to wait for the lengthy integration time of the projects now as you can instantly start working on the exchange of healthcare data as per the preference and requirement. And needless to say but FHIR assures and is highly efficient in putting down all the essential information into any workflow and that too in real-time situations to use for clinical decision support and further.

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