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FHIR – The Future of Healthcare Data Standardization

FHIR – The Future of Healthcare Data Standardization

By Kire Stojkovski M.D
Editor craig Published 10 May 2023
Time to read 8 min

As with everything in modern society, healthcare is becoming increasingly more digitized, and the demand for quick and easy access to patients’ medical records grows rapidly each year. Fast Health Interoperability Resources or FHIR has become the answer to standardized medical data.

Using current technology found on most websites, FHIR is replacing the more complicated and outdated formats and revolutionizing the way doctors and patients access healthcare information.

FHIR History and Protocol

Health Level Seven (HL7), a non-profit international organization and the leader in electronic health information, began the development of FHIR in 2012. Today we are on the fourth and most comprehensive version of FHIR.

HL7’s set of Resources are the procedural rules that govern FHIR and are the basic building blocks for the FHIR structure. Simply put, resources are pieces of information that can be easily connected and shared among various healthcare systems.

Programmers divide resources into distinct categories with specific data included within each one. For example, clinical resources include data for allergies and medications, identification resources will have patient information and location of services, and financial resources contain billing and insurance coverage.

FHIR’s use of current technology allows system operators to integrate, request, and transfer the resource elements between multiple healthcare systems. Information is then shared in a variety of ways including through services, documents, or messages.

The goal of FHIR is to solve some of the many problems of clinical and administrative healthcare by making patient medical records more portable and easier to read. FHIR also improves the way computer systems exchange and use medical data.

Informatics and the Shift from Reactive to Proactive Healthcare

Health Informatics, the marriage of information technology and healthcare, is the future of medicine and has led to substantial advancements. The rapid modernization of medicine is a direct reflection of today’s society and demands transformative solutions. Real-life applications like FHIR have led to big changes in the execution of healthcare worldwide.

Knowledge collected from artificial intelligence in healthcare not only prevents diseases but predicts the causes leading to a shift from reactive healthcare to proactive healthcare.

Instead of patients visiting a doctor once a problem arises and the doctor reacting to the diagnoses by prescribing a course of treatment, patients can take proactive measures before any symptoms occur.

The computer technology applied in healthcare informatics is a powerful tool used to eliminate the time it takes between discovering a problem and finding the solution. For example, in the field of gene sequencing, the time it takes to gather and analyze data from informatics with the extreme precision needed beats chemical analysis 3 to 1 [1].

Data collected and shared on FHIR can help medical professionals guide their patients to a more proactive lifestyle to maintain wellness. This also has the added benefit of reducing medical costs and allows the patient to have a more active role in their healthcare.

Transmit Real-Time Data Among Clinicians

One of the many important benefits of FHIR is the fast pace at which medical information is received, analyzed, and shared. This real-time data allows clinicians to:

  • Quickly collect healthcare information
  • Closely and efficiently engage with patients
  • Communicate between different software systems
  • Easily link with existing and previous HL7 standards
  • Save time by directly feeding information into workflows

Patient participation is important when collecting data. The real-time exchange of information can help clinicians monitor the effects of a particular treatment and make rapid changes if necessary. They can also quickly advise patients of any actions needed before a problem arises.

The high-speed execution of FHIR assists in many aspects of healthcare including clinical decision support by reducing the time it takes to respond to a patient’s individual medical needs and improving the overall outcome.

Another impact of real-time data is the higher quality of healthcare achieved by the advancement of early diagnosis, and the effectiveness and quality of treatment. There are also greater insights into the causes of diseases and more effective drugs prescribed [2].

Assist With Patient Management

Patient expectations have become a large part of quality healthcare. Some of the basic concerns patients have ranged from missed diagnosis and delayed treatment to miscommunication across healthcare settings resulting in medical errors [3]. Informatics like FHIR ensure the continuity and safety of patient care.

The US experiences over 210,000 deaths from medical errors every year and 80% of those errors are mistakes made while transferring patient information between various treatment centers such as clinics, ERs, hospitals, and laboratories [4].

The addition of informatics in health care can prevent most of these medical errors while improving patient management [5]. For example, research from various facilities that actively use electronic medical records (EMR) shows a reduction in medication errors by 54% and increased adherence to structured guidelines by 30% [6].

Medical data collected and shared through FHIR also affects the predictive analytics in healthcare by ensuring both doctor and patient have the best information needed to make proactive healthcare choices. The precision of FHIR helps to improve clinical outcomes while increasing the quality of patient management.

Fast Health Interoperability Resources FAQ

What Is the Difference between HL7 and FHIR?

Health Level-7 is a set of international specifications, or standards, used to transfer and share medical data between various healthcare providers and systems. HL-7 created FHIR to simplify how doctors and patients receive and interpret electronic health records (EHR).

The purpose of FHIR is to make electronic information taken from a variety of sources compatible for all systems to read. It might be easier to think of HL-7 as a set of multiple languages with FHIR acting as its interpreter.

HL-7 and FHIR receive the same information from electronic databases, but computer programmers are responsible for reading and deciphering the information from HL-7 whereas FHIR can be easily understood by medical personnel as well as their patients.

Who Is Using FHIR?

Many companies and health IT developers are incorporating FHIR in their operating systems. In fact, as of 2019, approximately 51% of health IT developers reported using a version of FHIR, including the top 10 certified developers who service 82% of US hospitals with 64% of independent clinicians using their products [7].

Big tech is also taking notice of the pace at which FHIR is growing. Many tech giants including, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon are exploring applications through FHIR, but Apple was the first to begin product development and in 2018, launched Health Records — a mobile app allowing patients to securely connect to and manage their medical records [8].

As of today, more than 60 healthcare institutions support the Health Record app on the i-phone within the United States, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom.

Why Is FHIR Important?

The latest version of FHIR is a crucial step in the advancement of medicine and is important in many ways.

FHIR is easy to use. The technology used in FHIR is as user-friendly as social media apps like Facebook and Pinterest. There’s no need for clinicians to undergo extensive training and access to patient information is available no matter where it was originally sourced.

Patients are more involved in their healthcare. With easy access to electronic medical records, patients can have more control and communicate faster with medical professionals while also making proactive choices to improve their quality of life.

All medical entities have the same patient data. The transfer of patients from one facility to another has led to misdiagnosis, medication errors, duplicate testing and procedures, and delayed treatment [9]. With FHIR, all healthcare personnel use the same medical data provided no matter what phase of treatment the patient is in.

FHIR saves money. Healthcare is expensive all around, and clinical mistakes have patients paying for tests, treatments, and procedures that aren’t needed. Having unified informatics prevents such medical errors, and data tracked over time give healthcare providers a better outlook on patient care.

FHIR saves money. Healthcare is expensive all around, and clinical mistakes have patients paying for tests, treatments, and procedures that aren’t needed. Having unified informatics prevents such medical errors, and data tracked over time give healthcare providers a better outlook on patient care.

FHIR saves lives. The US spends billions of dollars annually on defensive healthcare and medical malpractice creating burdens for patients and doctors [10]. Medical error has become the third leading cause of death in the US [11]. Implementing coordinated and efficient healthcare through FHIR can prevent errors such as over medication and unnecessary procedures.

Fast Health Interoperability Resources has become a game-changer in the world of electronic healthcare. It combines HL-7 features as well as previous FHIR versions to create a format that’s more accessible, understandable, and available to all. This advanced system of standards has unlimited potential, especially with the eye of tech giants like Apple taking advantage of this technology.

FHIR doesn’t solve all the problems of administrative and clinical health, but it’s a big step in the right direction. With more and more health IT developers adopting FHIR technology, the future of these data systems can change the way we do medicine forever.

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