The FHIR Protocol
Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) for Health Care technology providers.
In the IT world, talking about open standards and protocols is common. However, when it comes to healthcare, progress in this regard has been slower — at least until the arrival of the FHIR.
In DermaDetect, most of the data that populated and digitalised for the patient privacy used on the FHIR protocol.
The Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) developed by HL7 International, marks a milestone that allows interoperability between different systems, which is extremely important to improve the quality of health service.
In this article, we will discuss what FHIR is and why it is vital to the future of healthcare.
What is FHIR?
The Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) is a specification created to facilitate the transparent exchange of healthcare information between different platforms. In that sense, you can think of FHIR as a protocol that standardizes the exchange of healthcare information, which in turn enables applications, platforms, and healthcare providers to share patient data regardless of the software they use.
When explaining the concept of FHIR, it is common to use the simile of the HTTP protocol, since it allows communication between different systems easily and quickly.
How FHIR works?
One aspect that makes FHIR unique is its internet-based approach to connecting different discrete elements. In FHIR terms, “elements” or “resources” have a unique identifier (tag) that works in a similar way to a URL of a web page.
The benefits of such an approach are extraordinary.
As with web pages, said “URL” or identifier allows the information to be accessed from any type of device, be it a tablet, a phone, a PC, or any other kind of terminal. Moreover, the resources created using FHIR are based on very easy to handle structures such as XML, JSON, HTTP, Atom, or OAuth. So not only is the data easily accessible, but also the resources created by this standard can be interpreted by any type of system, application, or technology. In other words, FHIR is designed from the ground up to be highly compatible with the platforms currently in use, and even in cases where it is not compatible, its standardized representation of data and its coherent structure allow it to be extremely easy to port to other platforms.
What are the key benefits of FHIR?
The benefits that FHIR offers are innumerable. In fact, we have already mentioned a few. Here is a list that brings together the main advantages of the FHIR framework.
● Standardizes the structure and content of the data for easy manipulation on any type of platform
● It feeds the information directly into the workflow which speeds up data entry
● Helps to make medical data available easily and conveniently
● Assign each resource a unique identifier to facilitate its access from any type of device
● Offers built-in traceability mechanisms to HL7 RIM and other content models
● Reduces the complexity of healthcare data manipulation and storage
● Allows the creation of documents that contain a dataset or collection of related data
● Its design allows developers to use the FHIR API to create applications that handle information more efficiently and quickly.
What makes FHIR unique?
Contrary to what some may think, the FHIR protocol was not created to replace Electronic Health Records (EHR). As its name indicates, FHIR emerges as a solution to achieve better interoperability between different EHRs. In that sense, FHIR is unique since it allows to achieve a large number of objectives.
● It allows using a standardized protocol that allows communication between different EHRs
● Associates a unique identifier to each patient, which is invaluable for physicians as this allows them to access all kinds of information on the medical history of said patient
● The FHIR standard is created as an API that gives you unprecedented flexibility and growth.
● As part of its API, FHIR has implemented powerful authorization mechanisms based on the OAuth standard which allows organizations to control data access
A quick overlook of FHIR protocol
Up to this point, we have talked about what FHIR is, its many benefits, and how it can help the future of medical information management. However, what does this protocol look like? Is it complex or easy to handle?
Below we present an example of a medical algorithm for assessment and treatment of overweight and obesity, taken directly from the HL7 FHIR page. In the screenshot below you can get a general idea of the protocol display (raw JSON view).
As can be seen in the source file, all the information management is done following the JSON Format Specification, which is widely known and accepted in the industry. Each property is clearly identified which makes it incredibly easy to understand the logic that the protocol follows.
One aspect that makes the FHIR protocol extremely flexible is that it does not limit developers to a specific format. Are you more familiar with XML? No problem. In this link, you can see the same example using XML.
Here is another example, this time the screenshot shows patient data visualized as a table:
The XML code for defining the patient is quite simple:
Or if you prefer JSON, that’s only a matter of formatting it accordingly:
FHIR also lets you group information by defining a resource type called “Bundle”.
Here is an example of the code that bundles the information of 13 patients.
For more information on the FHIR specification and its Resource Description Framework Representation (RDF), we invite you to visit the official documentation.