In the past few years, FHIR® has become nearly synonymous with healthcare interoperability thanks to rapidly growing adoption by EHR vendors, developers, payers, and patient applications. That’s why we’re starting a blog series dedicated to all things FHIR, to help you better understand what it is, how it works, and why it matters.
For this first installment, we’ll break down the technical side of FHIR, and why it matters as a data standard for healthcare interoperability.
FHIR (which stands for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources and is pronounced ‘fire’) is a standard for exchanging healthcare information electronically using modern web technologies. It is the way we store the data, the structure of that data, and the way we transmit it.
The data is stored in JSON and transmitted via REST APIs. These are technologies that have powered the internet for the past 10 years, but what’s exciting about FHIR is the application of these web technologies in the healthcare space – allowing developers and IT departments to leverage commercial off-the-shelf tooling the technology that’s used in all other industries, to turbocharge what they’re doing for healthcare.
Unlocking a Common Language
The premise of FHIR is that all different organizations use one standard language. With everyone speaking the same language and using the same vocabulary, data is able to be transmitted between organizations in a way that it couldn’t be before in an older era of proprietary data standards, site specific customizations and configurations. For the first time ever, we have something that is both flexible and scalable for communicating healthcare data.
Additionally, because FHIR is based on standard web technologies, it doesn’t take a niche subject matter expert to understand how to work with it. Anyone that understands REST and JSON can start to take advantage of FHIR and build interesting and novel things on top of the technology.
FHIR as a Standard
The United States government has moved quickly to double down on FHIR as a healthcare data standard. Because of this, we are now seeing on the provider side that EMRs have to support FHIR APIs, and on the health plan side that payers must now support FHIR APIs. This support and mandatory implementation of FHIR is likely to continue, as showcased in recent CMS proposed rulings.
Most recently, CMS (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services) published a proposed Federal Rule that introduced two new interoperability measures and expanded the scope of the Patient Access requirements and completely overhauled the existing Payer to Payer requirements. While the regulation is still currently in proposal, the core themes can be summarized simply as more FHIR®, more eligible data recipients, and more data.
You can read more about the importance of this ruling in our related blog post by clicking here.