HL7 released the latest version of the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources standard – FHIR 4 for short – on January 2nd of this year. There are several reasons that this new standard is driving further interoperability progress in healthcare.

Significance of FHIR 4

One of the benefits of the FHIR standard is the flexibility and functionality that it provides. This includes:

  • bi-directional (read or write)
  • flexibility towards individual data as well as whole documents
  • supports pluggable apps

Those are some of the benefits of FHIR standards in general. The latest version, FHIR 4, is the first one that contains components that are normative. The significance of this is that all future versions will be backwards compatible. This makes it less of a risk for software developers to implement.

This backwards compatibility is the reason that FHIR 4 APIs are bringing progress to interoperability. Now we have a standard that all future versions will be backwards compatible to, and that means that developers can more freely innovate without fear that the code they are writing will get thrown out with future versions. This freedom to innovate is what will lead to a more full clinical picture and greater interoperability.

Barriers to Progress

Despite the progress that the FHIR 4 API provides, no technology standard can achieve interoperability alone. There are other barriers. Mainly, business concerns will always be a road block to interoperability.

Not only is it a business issue, but there is also the problem of change. People are often slow to adopt new technology because of the pain of replacing what already exists. Change is a challenge.

Finally, even though the FHIR 4 allows for two-way communication, most EHR vendors are sticking to a read-only level of access. It will probably be a long time before EHR vendors are willing to accept data from outside sources, but this step will lead to greater interoperability.

Bottom Line

The FHIR 4 will provide confidence to developers, which will breed further innovation and closer steps towards interoperability. We are nowhere near the finish line to achieving this goal in healthcare, but each step closer is progress.

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