Epic, Cerner, others join HL7 project

Top vendors and providers join forces to spur standards-based interoperability
By Mike Miliard
11:17 AM
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Health Level Seven International has launched the Argonaut Project – a collaborative comprising healthcare heavy-hitters such as Epic, Cerner, MEDITECH, Mayo Clinic, Intermountain and Partners HealthCare – to speed the development and adoption of HL7’s standards framework, FHIR.

As it works to spread FHIR – it's pronounced "fire," and stands for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources – HL7's Argonaut Project touts the participation of blue chip EHR developers, health systems and research groups, including:

[See also: Interoperability is 'impossible in the abstract']

  • athenahealth  
  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center  
  • Cerner  
  • Epic
  • Intermountain Healthcare
  • Mayo Clinic
  • MEDITECH
  • McKesson
  • Partners HealthCare System  
  • SMART at the Boston Children’s Hospital Informatics Program
  • The Advisory Board Company

FHIR is billed as a next-generation framework that makes use of the latest Web-based standards, with a focus on putting them to work in healthcare interoperability. HL7 officials say FHIR is a so-called "RESTful" application programming interface -- an approach that's based on modern Internet conventions and is commonly deployed in other industries.

As healthcare grapples with data exchange between different systems, FHIR is a "significant advance," according to HL7, in enabling the access and delivery of information, offering enormous flexibility. For patients and providers, its versatility can be applied to mobile devices, Web-based apps, cloud communications, and EHR data-sharing using modular components.

Speaking at RSNA 2014 in Chicago earlier this week, former ONC Chief Scientist Doug Fridsma, MD, who was in charge of the federal agency's interoperability standards, said there was only so much the government could do.

[See also: Interoperability's 'game-changer']

"We need the private sector to step up and do a lot more of this," said Fridsma. "Private sector engagement is going to be critical."

This is just the kind of project he's talking about.

“Our national health IT policy has always focused on the adoption of private sector-led standards,” said Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. chief technology officer, in a press statement announcing the Argonaut Project. “Today’s acceleration initiative draws on that collaborative spirit and will translate into better technologies to support better healthcare for patients and providers.”

The Argonaut Project aims to quickly develop a first-generation FHIR-based API and core data services specification to enable expanded information sharing for EHRs and other health IT based on Internet standards and architectural patterns and style, say HL7 officials. The project will accelerate current FHIR development efforts to provide practical and focused FHIR profiles and implementation guides to the industry by the spring of 2015.

"FHIR is already being tested and implemented by leading organizations in the public, private and academic communities," said HL7 CEO Charles Jaffe, MD, in a pres statement. "We believe this will drive industry-wide adoption. If you make something useful, people will embrace it."

The Argonaut Project is an effort to address the recommendations of the JASON Task Force, a joint task force of the HIT Standards and Policy Committees. JASON Task Force co-chair Micky Tripathi, CEO and president of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative, has committed his organization to serve as the project manager for this initiative.

The project "shows that private industry is now able to collectively and collaboratively play the lead role in rationalizing and modernizing nationwide healthcare interoperability, just as it has in other sectors of the economy," said Tripathi in a statement.

"In 2014, there has been a perfect storm of alignment among government, industry, academia, provider organizations and innovators that FHIR is our best opportunity to accelerate interoperability," said HIT Standards Committee Co-Chair and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CIO John Halamka, MD, in a statement.

"At this point in history we have an unprecedented opportunity to apply additional resources and focus, producing a simple, consensus-based implementation guide for query/response transactions in healthcare using the same type of technologies that Facebook, Google, and Amazon have already implemented at scale," said Halamka. "We are not creating a new organization to do this work; instead we are all unifying around HL7 as an ANSI-accredited standards development organization to deliver what we all need.”

[See also: Interoperability: supply and demand]