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What is FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources)?

How does this standard relate to HL7 and what does it mean for Healthcare IT monitoring?

Chase Snyder

August 27, 2015

FHIR logo

The Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard is right around the corner.

FHIR is a standard for exchanging healthcare information electronically. The FHIR (pronounced "fire") standard uses basic building blocks called "resources" to model healthcare data in a way that is easier for healthcare providers to use and share clinical data as needed without compromising security or violating HIPAA.

The specification for FHIR is created and maintained by Health Level 7 International, the organization responsible for the HL7 v2 and HL7 v3 standards that are widely used in healthcare messaging today. FHIR is currently considered to be a "Draft Standard for Trial Use," meaning that the spec is still in active development. Estimates for when the standard will be released in a fully normative version range from 2015 to 2017, depending who you ask.

Why Was FHIR Created?

Short answer: easier implementation and interoperability.

Check out the official FHIR summary page for a more detailed list of why HL7 believes FHIR is better than current standards. A few of the main points include:

  • Faster, easier implementation
  • Free, unrestricted use
  • Human and machine-readable data formats in the same resources
  • Supports RESTful architecture
  • Emphasis on web technologies

Not A Be-All, End-All for Health IT

When FHIR was announced, blogs and news sources that cover health IT were quick to caution against "shiny new thing syndrome." There have been new healthcare data exchange standards before, and no matter how great they are technically, getting people to use them is hard. Writing about his own lack of excitement about FHIR, Sean Nolan, former Chief Architect of Microsoft Healthvault, said:

... adoption at scale is hard—and it's mostly not because of technology. Sure, we have to get through vendor upgrade cycles and we run into unexpected code issues, but that's easy. What's really hard is fitting use of the standard into daily workflows, solving privacy and trust challenges, navigating politics, and most importantly, demonstrating economic value.

Sean Nolan, former Chief Architect, Microsoft Healthvault

Nolan's points are valid, but FHIR is still coming, and the adoption struggle doesn't mean you shouldn't take advantage of it early, whether you're a healthcare provider or an IT vendor serving the healthcare space.

What FHIR Means for Healthcare IT Monitoring

Using popular, well documented web standards to exchange healthcare data will lower the barrier-to-entry for healthcare providers that want to find new ways to monitor and derive insights from that clinical and patient data. If you are interested in improving patient care and satisfaction through technology, you should take a good look at FHIR. From the looks of things, FHIR promises an easier way to develop greater interoperability and mechanisms for data sharing in healthcare.Click to tweet!

From the HL7 website (emphasis mine):

Technically, FHIR is designed for the web; <em>the resources are based on simple XML or JSON structures, with an http-based RESTful protocol</em> <em>where each resource has predictable URL</em>. Where possible, open internet standards are used for data representation.

The HL7 International site also claims that developers have created simple interfaces for FHIR in "less than a single day."

With more healthcare data passing over the wire in these standard web formats, it will be much easier for the ExtraHop platform to extract useful insights for healthcare teams.

What FHIR Means for ExtraHop (And for You)

ExtraHop is all about deriving insight from data in motion, and anything that makes that easier is OK by us. It turns out ExtraHop doesn't actually need FHIR to give you actionable insights from healthcare data, though. The ExtraHop wire data analytics platform can already parse HL7 messages and provide real time insight into VDI performance, patient admits, prescription fills, and other clinical and business info that healthcare providers can use to improve patient experience and reduce costs.

When FHIR hits the mainstream, ExtraHop will be ready. Any data that is defined in a FHIR message can be extracted, indexed and stored, and visualized in real time. Our customers will be able to see their data before, during, and after any FHIR transitions they may go through. In fact, ExtraHop can make the transition easier. Since both FHIR and HL7 communicate on the wire, ExtraHop can maintain visibility into both message types and provide assurance that all interfaces in a healthcare provider's network are using the preferred standard.

For a deeper dive into FHIR and the future of interoperability, monitoring, and data-driven healthcare, check out the next post: Stream Analytics Helping Healthcare Catch FHIR

Want to learn more about how ExtraHop provides healthcare organizations with insights from wire data that can dramatically improve both doctor and patient experiences? Explore the HL7 analytics scenarios in our free, online demo.

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