How FHIR API Improves Point of Care for Patients

22 October, 2020


When a patients’ information must be passed from their primary physician to specialists, clinics, surgery centers, and hospitals, that data has to be readable by each institution. Unfortunately, the healthcare sector has been the slowest to revise the standards by which patient health information is transmitted. This has partially resulted from the 24/7/365 nature of healthcare (no time to make big changes), but the change process has also been slowed by the demands of legislation around EPHI privacy.

In this article, we will discuss How FHIR API Improves Point of Care for Patients.

But before we dive into the benefit of FHIR API, let’s understand what FHIR is and what it does.

Defining and Describing FHIR API

The goal of developers within healthcare over the past five years or so has been to standardize data transmission to achieve interoperability between disparate healthcare systems.

Interoperability has been a challenge for the healthcare industry for a long while. HL7 Version 2 or X12 formats were specific to healthcare and used for data sharing but didn’t pass on the attribute names with the data. This made the seamless transfer of healthcare information very difficult.

Without attribute names (or labels) on the data being transmitted, it was difficult to get healthcare providers with diverse systems all on the same page.

However, beginning around 2015, developers began to look at XML and JSON (along with HTTP, Atom, and OAuth) to replace HL& version 2 and X12. XML and JSON do pass on attribute names with the structured data. Using XML and JSON creates loosely coupled architecture, allowing systems that weren’t designed for each other to “talk” to each other.

With this new data standard, clinics, imaging centers, labs, and hospitals have access to an easy, consistent way to share and transfer information.

FHIR (an acronym for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources and pronounced “Fire”) is built on modern web technologies that are already in use across the internet in platforms such as Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook.

Health Level Seven International (HL7) is the non-profit organization that undertook the work of developing a comprehensive framework that could be utilized to standardize retrieval, sharing, integration, and exchange of EPHI.

HL7 determined five categories of “Resources” that would have to be transmitted with FHIR in a standardized fashion.

  • Clinical – AllergyProblemProcedureCarePlan/GoalService RequestFamily HistoryRisk Assessment, etc.
  • Diagnostics - Observation, Report, Specimen, Imaging Study, Genomics, Specimen, etc.
  • Medications - Medication, Request, Dispense, Administration, Statement, Immunization, etc.
  • Workflow - Introduction + Task, Appointment, Schedule, Referral, Plan Definition, etc.
  • Financial – Claim, Account, Invoice, Charge Item, Coverage + Eligibility, Request & Response, Explanation of Benefit, etc.

FHIR defines how resources can be exchanged between healthcare systems, taking the information provided and standardizing these “resources” for transfer or receipt. This process makes healthcare information more portable, transparent, and useful.

Open Source Vendors for FHIR API

In this race to perfect and deploy FHIR API across the healthcare industry, various open-source vendors are providing their version of FHIR API. HL7 lists FHIR API servers that are publicly available for testing.

  • Azure FHIR API
  • Google Health FHIR API
  • Bunsen FHIR API
  • Vonk FHIR API
  • SmileCDR
  • Firely FHIR API

The Benefits of FHIR - How FHIR API Improves Point of Care for Patients

  1. Access the right information from any device or practice management application

Because FHIR is based on web-first tools, the information can be as readily accessed (through HIPAA-compliant, secure credentialing) as the data leveraged in the social media platforms mentioned above. The flexibility to use any device or practice management application to access EPHI opens up a world of working options for the healthcare team as well as easier access for go-anywhere patient care.

  1. Align with HIPAA and HIT best practices

Standardization and interoperability are always key to IT best practices. When there are gaps and inconsistencies, critical cybersecurity vulnerabilities can develop. FHIR API is the first significant step in addressing these concerns. With patient privacy at the center of both government and public radar, privacy has to figure heavily into patient care.

  1. Eliminate the necessity of sending individual documents between care providers

Patient care is slowed or road-blocked when critical information is not transferred, or outdated data is transferred. When either of these happens the current solution is often to send an individual document with the correct/current information over to the other healthcare provider. FHIR API helps with the accurate, synchronized transmission of EPHI.

  1. Empower faster workflow by feeding patient information directly into the system

Manual input of data is one of the biggest factors that are slowing the healthcare system as a whole. With data that has attribute names, integrations and automation can be utilized to automatically populate the data into workflow - improving the amount of time available for patient care.

  1. Enable machine-based processing and automated clinical support

With the emergence of wearables and telehealth comes a broader conversation about what machine learning and AI can do in the healthcare field to improve the patient experience. However, without a standardized way to transmit healthcare data, the advancements that may be available are held back in development.

Want to talk to our Healthcare IT professionals about implementing FHIR API? We’re here to help.

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