Healthcare Technology Featured Article

April 21, 2017

FHIR Sets the Stage for Targeted Applications for Payers and Providers

Interoperability — or the ability of unrelated clinical and administrative systems to “talk” to one another — is one of the biggest health care challenges today. Fast health interoperability resources (FHIR) is an emerging transaction standard that many view as a key tool to make interoperability a reality. As FHIR takes the world of interoperability by storm, many stakeholders are committing resources as they discover useful applications for it and creating targeted applications for payers and physicians.

The FHIR standard was developed by HL7, which is one of the nation’s major standards development organizations and particularly applicable to electronic health records (EHRs) and clinical systems. FHIR’s appeal lies in its flexibility, permitting the selection and exchange of specific pieces of patient information instead of having to import entire documents, which has been the norm. This makes it easier for developers to create targeted applications because they can use FHIR to select only those data fields the individual user needs. It creates a nimble way to exchange specific or supplemental (“side car”) data among users. Examples include patient demographics or specific disease states. This approach also spares users from having to plow through many pages to hone in on the specific information they require. 

In addition, many — including the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) — view FHIR as a way to create application program interfaces (APIs) to help unrelated software programs “talk” to each other. Unrelated clinical and administrative systems, including EHRs, can now exchange data, allowing consumers and providers to get useful health information when and where they need it most. FHIR-based APIs also will enable payers and providers to incorporate this information directly into physicians’ work flow, improving their quality and ease of patient care.

Moreover, FHIR lowers the barrier to entry. One-off customization isn’t needed.

Because of its flexibility, FHIR applications are gaining traction between business partners, even though it is still in a draft standard state. Using FHIR, specific data can easily be imported into customized dashboards or alerts that are tailored to the needs of providers and payers. This provides a solution to exchange the data needed, for example, on patients in risk panels for discrete, value-based care contracts. Big insurers, EHR vendors and provider organizations are actively standing up FHIR-based servers.

While specific use cases are emerging, payers and developers see opportunities for FHIR-enabled systems and APIs for population health management, patient engagement and precision medicine. They also see use cases for FHIR-enabled interoperable health records, as well as mobile health and wearables.

To be clear, despite the usefulness of emerging FHIR-based applications, partners will still need to grapple with foundational level issues related to security and patient matching. In the meantime, FHIR provides a modern standard to enable the exchange of critical information to all aspects in the care life cycle.  

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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