FHIR: igniting digital innovation in the healthcare industry

For all too many years, the healthcare industry’s attempts to innovate have run into the proverbial brick wall. An emerging standard is sparking much needed change, though.
11:45 AM

For all too many years, the healthcare industry’s attempts to innovate have run into the proverbial brick wall. Even though the industry has moved en masse to electronic medical records (EMRs), the fact that data resides in silos has made it difficult to create the innovative applications that can truly engage patients and transform the healthcare experience. An emerging standard is sparking much needed change, though.

Consider the following: A patient typically interacts with a variety of different, unaffiliated organizations such as hospitals, physician offices, pharmacies, health insurance companies, drug manufacturers and federal agencies. As a result, the care experience is highly fragmented and inconsistent. Data does not flow seamlessly across this ecosystem and there is no unified, real-time view of the patient.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) have been around for quite some time and were heralded as the programming solution that could assuage some of this disconnection. The problem: “Originally APIs were very proprietary. The API for Windows 3.1 was designed for interaction between the operating system and a Windows application and was used to build an app that would only run on Windows 3.1. The APIs of today are not proprietary, use web technology, and can be used to build an app that can run on any platform, even those that will manage the devices yet to come,” said Dan Tortorici, director of API product and solutions marketing at Axway.

In addition, innovation has been difficult simply “due to the challenges around safely unlocking data from existing systems such as EMRs. Securely exchanging data across organizations, whether they are affiliated or not affiliated, exposing information online, or via mobile apps, presents many data security and privacy issues,” said Joanna Gorovoy, senior director of industry solutions marketing at Axway.

FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) is changing this problem. An HL7 standard that simplifies the exchange of healthcare information and promotes the use of APIs to support light-weight integration, FHIR facilitates secure data access and interoperability across the healthcare ecosystem – accelerating time to market for game-changing digital services and experiences that promote deeper patient engagement and improved health outcomes.

“APIs are driving disruption in just about every industry, medical included,” Tortorici said. For example, APIs are playing a role in the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2), a regulation that requires European banks to make it easier to share customer transaction and account data, by “liberating the data from any one silo. The same thing is happening in the healthcare industry as FHIR helps to liberate patient data from silos,” he said.
In fact, by extending this type of controlled data access to the broader healthcare ecosystem – drug manufacturers, personal genomics companies and research institutions, for example, would support delivery of more personalized care and treatment options for patients. Chronically ill patients could be more easily matched to relevant clinical trials or with new precision medicine treatments designed to optimize efficiency or therapeutic benefit for particular groups of patients, using genetic or molecular profiling data.

Such data sharing across the ecosystem already has spurred innovation. For example, Bellevue, Wash.-based Translational Software has developed a web app, Medsreview for clinicians, that supports personalized medicine by integrating drug-gene and drug-drug interactions for medication therapy management, enabling clinicians to choose the most effective drug with the fewest side effects for an individual patient. 

By fueling widespread data exchange, API-powered, FHIR-enabled solutions could enable stakeholders across the patient’s ecosystem to redefine the value and quality of the patient experience by inviting better collaboration and open innovation – resulting in a vastly improved care experience.

“FHIR-enabled APIs, along with evolving healthcare regulations, and the rapid pace of technology introduction are creating tremendous disruption in healthcare, and the impact will continue to grow as newer technologies are introduced and adopted. For example, Internet of Things devices are providing new levels of sensor data enabling greater patient interaction, better understanding of disease processes, and the ability to improve outcomes,” Tortorici said.