Posted in Standards

Despite its great promise, FHIR won't replace older standards just yet, expert says

Chris Nerney
Chris Nerney, Contributing Writer |
Despite its great promise, FHIR won't replace older standards just yet, expert says

The definition of healthcare interoperability has changed in recent years as digital technologies have become more complex and as both the volume and sources of patient and medical data have grown dramatically.

Indeed, the difference between previous healthcare interoperability and its current incarnation is like the difference between a single telephone line connecting with another line and the operation of an entire unified communications system.

“Now interoperability is about accessing data across many systems, both inside and outside the organization, as a single, concordant view, and presenting it to clinicians in a way that is usable and actionable in their workflows,” writes Russell Leftwich, MD, who is InterSystems’ senior clinical advisor for interoperability and adjunct assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

As Leftwich notes, FHIR (HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) is “quickly becoming the foundation for the future of interoperability” because the standard simplifies and accelerates the sharing of clinical information between systems, which not only helps providers treat patients, but can be the catalyst for innovation.

Yet he cautions healthcare providers not to “jump ship too soon on the existing HL7 v2 and CDA standards.”

“That’s not to say that FHIR won’t win out for building new systems (because it will), but I do believe that FHIR will need to coexist with other standards for the foreseeable future,” Leftwich says. That’s because it’s not in the financial interests of providers to walk away from “billions of dollars worth” of existing IT systems that rely on other standards.

Instead, he says, these providers should be able to use FHIR as a translation layer that “allows systems to take advantage of FHIR and its capabilities.”

“The reverse transformation can take place where data is exported from the platform back to systems that still only understand the older standards,” Leftwich writes.

For now, he says, healthcare organizations should be developing a strategy that will allow them to straddle these hybrid IT environments “by implementing solutions that can operate with a variety of standards.”