The inefficiencies of doctors’ appointments and hospital stays have been the butt of jokes for decades now.While the drugs and implantable devices are the stuff of science fiction, it can be argued that the actual exchange of medical information is the stuff of the 1950’s. The most common questions burning in patients’ minds while sorting through bills or waiting on hold with insurance companies are likely: “why can’t two different offices talk to each other?”-- or -- “why can’t the machines within the same hospital talk to each other?” The answer for far too many years, has been “it’s complicated.” In 2017, that excuse will finally be tossed out the window, fax machine and all.
To be sure, digital interoperability is complex. Unlike other industries, healthcare has much to be careful about, including privacy, security, and accuracy, the latter of which can be a matter of life or death. While health information standards – which are agreed upon ways to classify and package different types of health data – have existed since the late 1980s, they were originally developed to be flexible enough for hospitals to build their platforms in-house. And that’s exactly what they did. For 30 years, these in-house systems became so diverse and convoluted that it became difficult for two different systems to communicate, and largely impossible for new or established software companies to penetrate the industry at a scalable level.
2017 marks the year that we finally make sense of the tangled web the healthcare industry has weaved over the years. FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) is a new tool scheduled to be officially released by an international committee called HL7 that will essentially function as an interpreter between two healthcare systems or offices that have developed their own language over time. The first release will focus on clinical data, like imaging, medications, etc., while the second will focus on administrative data, like billing and demographics.
There are huge implications for healthcare beyond just the intercommunication of systems. Innovators and entrepreneurs everywhere can finally take a crack at building smart, data-driven technologies that can be built to a FHIR standard, thereby allowing new technologies to be theoretically adopted anywhere.
FHIR not only marks a potential end of the frustration, it also paves the way for a surge of life-saving health information technology.