FHIR And The Coming Transformation Of Healthcare Data

August 15, 2022: -The federal government has been working to prepare the industry for a world of patient and bulk access to healthcare data. In 2021, the first steps were implemented when hospitals were required to provide access to population health data via an FHIR (fast healthcare interoperability resources) Bulk Data API. The standard defines how healthcare data is stored and exchanged between different systems. Essentially, FHIR has been designed to solve the data challenges widely faced by the healthcare industry (i.e., disparate data sources, untimely access, information silos, outdated legacy infrastructure, etc.).

FHIR’s great innovation is one data model based on widely used internet standards that other industries have used to transform themselves successfully. Standardization was a deliberate decision by regulators. Joe Gagnon—CEO of 1upHealth, a cloud-based data interoperability platform built on FHIR that unlocks healthcare data to help improve outcomes—thinks the best possible one. In an article in Forbes with the same headline as above, Joe states his point of view, which we present in this excerpt.

In the past, healthcare has tried to develop specialized systems for gathering, to transmit, and using data. Part of the reason stemmed from how specific and demanding healthcare data is. But another part was an unhealthy desire to retain existing silos. Repeated attempts to keep systems developed in-house with proprietary tech stacks demonstrated that it’s hard to design a flexible and dynamic technology architecture from these monolithic and closed systems.

By relying on a set of common standards based on familiar technologies in an open and more transparent system, FHIR has made it possible for software developers to bring their existing knowledge and skills to take on healthcare data problems and innovate to take it to the next level.

This approach has powered the transformation of other industries by allowing anyone who could come up with a solution to a problem to build it and demonstrate its value. Now is the time for healthcare to experience the same transformative power that standard data access can provide.

As you might expect, the broad-scale adoption of FHIR has been slower than some of us had hoped. The prominent industry incumbents, with their financial interests to protect, have decided to point to this as a sign that FHIR will fail in the same manner that other healthcare interoperability attempts have failed in the past. Joe passionately disagrees.

FHIR will grow the way network technologies usually do: first slowly, then less slowly, then with startling speed. No one in the healthcare system is used to having access to large amounts of comprehensive, high-quality clinical and claims data, and as such, their operations are not ready to take advantage of it. The healthcare culture will need to move beyond a closed approach, and the habits of using data to properly and effectively deliver their services will need to evolve.

We are in the early stages of transformation with the potential for real and lasting benefits. Large volumes of high-quality data inevitably lead to a virtuous circle. The more this data gets used, the greater the demand for more of it.