We are in a potential Health Renaissance and innovating at break-neck speed. However, with that acceleration as always, comes risk. We have to be careful with our data. That’s why the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard was established. It’s a bit ironic, but the reason why FHIR is needed is that the industry itself is red hot!
FHIR is a data transfer protocol that’s designed to help developers provide information safely, securely, and efficiently. It’s the behind-the-scenes component that makes modernized medicine possible.
Innovations Changing the Face of Medicine
Imagine that a stroke victim could receive expert physician care from the back of an ambulance, or a doctor could monitor his patients’ blood pressure using an app on his mobile phone. Innovations like these aren’t just far-off fantasies. They’re happening now and they’re significantly improving patient outcomes.
Even standard everyday care is seeing these benefits. Telehealth alone accounts for up to 17% of all patient visits across specialties, and this number is only going to grow as people discover its benefits. Issues with care deserts and lack of community access will be things of the past thanks to new technology. FHIR is necessary to further this innovation as it provides the speed, standardization, and security needed to send the data that makes these programs possible.
The Three S’s of Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources
FHIR was developed by HL7 International to further the exchange of information in healthcare. Specifically, it’s designed to provide three things: standardization, security, and speed.
The ability to transfer healthcare data is a common industry challenge. Every office has dealt with the frustration of slow responses to record requests when time is of the essence. Electronic health data exchanges speed up this process, but it’s not a catch-all solution. A lot of healthcare providers and insurance companies operate off of legacy systems and use a wide range of devices. Outdated practice-specific programs may not be able to work with modern apps or technology. Trying to transfer data between them would be like trying to send a fax to a toaster.
FHIR seeks to standardize data transfer formats. This facilitates easy transmission between a legacy system and newer technology. It also prepares for the future of mobile apps, as the healthcare industry is making more and more use of remote care options. Developers will know the standard and be able to build it into their apps as they seek to support new ways of receiving care or handling public health crises.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has stringent security standards for protecting electronically transmitted personal health information. HIPAA needs to break down into three categories: administrative, physical and technical.
– Administrative: Employees must be trained and follow proper protocols in the secure access, use, and transmission of patient data.
– Physical: Proper controls must be in place for all hardware, workstations, and servers where data is held or accessed.
– Technical: Data access must be restricted to appropriate parties. Audits and integrity controls must monitor and prevent the changing or misuse of records. Finally, safe transmission is required in order to avoid the interception and exposure of data.
While physical and administrative HIPAA protocols may be relatively straightforward, technical aspects are less so. Providers may be at the mercy of systems and vendors who leave security gaps.
FHIR is the most up-to-date framework for the transmission of data which is also HIPAA compliant. It leverages HTTPS protocols to ensure strong encryption as data is moved. With this standard in place, it also becomes easier for healthcare providers to work with vendors who are also HIPAA compliant.
Speed is essential in healthcare, which may be surprising for anyone who has spent an hour in a waiting room. However, those long wait times aren’t the fault of providers. They’re the fault of information backlogs. Medicine isn’t guesswork. It requires knowledge, but a slow system limits access and prevents doctors and others from making timely decisions.
FHIR seeks to expedite the transmission of information – to make it a real-time option. This has been used far beyond patient care. It could also help to monitor issues like public health problems, hospital overloads, or the tracking of unique medical cases.
How Organizations Can Adopt FHIR
FHIR goes hand in hand with DevSecOps. These standards should be implemented at a development level to streamline security and speed transmission. This is an unrestricted, free-to-use framework backed by the most prominent vendors of electronic health record transmission services.
At a technical level, it leverages a REST strategy, which stands for representational state transfer architectural style. This is a standard for integrating applications that have been embraced by developers taking a DevSecOps approach.
Leveraging FHIR in healthcare involves working with vendors who have adopted these standards or implementing them in-house. This data exchange protocol can revolutionize the industry by providing speed, security, and standardization. As how we receive medical treatment evolves, FHIR will make the technology used to enable it to evolve right along with us.
About Daniel Riedel
Daniel Riedel is SVP of Strategic Services at Copado, the leading DevOps platform for enterprise cloud. Daniel has extensive experience building large-scale secure technologies and businesses where he has held roles in engineering, operations, security, analytics, and product development. He serves on the board of OASIS and has testified before Congress on cybersecurity and the U.S. energy infrastructure.