Blog Post

The Future of Health Information Data Exchange


Data is integral to every aspect of healthcare. Timely access to accurate, up-to-date data – medical history, drug interactions, information about a particular disease – positions providers to successfully treat patients in a safe and efficient manner. Today’s physicians are armed with more information than ever before, thanks to technology that can transfer vast amounts of data at increasingly rapid speeds.

But is there such a thing as having too much data?

The common standard for data exchange in health IT today – known as Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture – is designed to transfer entire unstructured documents between disparate EHRs, rather than individual pieces of discrete data. Simply put, this is like handing someone a huge photo album when all they need is a specific picture. Comprehensive? Yes. Efficient? No.

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) is an emerging technology standard (i.e., a programming language) for exchanging data that represents a fundamental shift away from a document-centric approach to a more granular, data-level approach. Pronounced “fire,” FHIR defines basic elements of healthcare documents, such as patient allergies and medications, which can be retrieved and exchanged between disparate systems using the standard message format. This concept allows third-party applications to exchange pieces of discrete data on demand without the need to develop costly custom interfaces, enabling clinicians to quickly focus on specific data fields without filtering through superfluous information.

The new standard offers structure and simplicity, which could translate into increasing clinician adoption and interoperability. In fact, some organizations have already begun working with the FHIR standard:

  • Geisinger Health System’s technology spinoff, xG Health Solutions, has started utilizing the FHIR standard with its implementation of EnrG Rheum. EnrG Rheum is a rheumatology application that integrates data from nursing, physician, and patient resources into a user interface that allows specialists to quickly digest and utilize the patient health information when making care decisions. Clinicians using EnrG Rheum reported an increase in productivity of 26% over 2 years as a result of the time saved on chart and clinical documentation review. xG Health Solutions initially piloted EnrG Rheum with Cerner and has been able to connect with other EHRs, including Epic and athenahealth, both of which are piloting the FHIR standard.
  • IBM’s Watson Health is working with Epic and the Mayo Clinic to integrate health data to inform real-time clinical decision support at the point of care, including health information acquired from devices using Apple’s HealthKit.

These early adopters could soon have company. The Argonaut Project, sponsored by a group of private hospital systems and EHR vendors, is working to accelerate development and adoption of the FHIR standard. Project participants will continually evaluate FHIR in 2016 as interested healthcare providers and vendors have the opportunity to test the standard. If FHIR eventually becomes the normative standard, we can expect to see increased interoperability between disparate systems and ease of data flow – giving providers access to patient care information that is not just comprehensive but meaningful as well.