The potential of the rapidly evolving HL7 FHIR standards to revolutionize the way health information is acquired, managed, shared and used continues to be widely recognized across the industry. As part of its longstanding collaborative relationship with HL7, IHE International is working to help realize that potential and hasten the advancement and adoption of FHIR to improve interoperability in health IT.
IHE and HL7 recently reaffirmed their collaborative relationship, by signing a new memorandum of understanding that calls for carrying out joint projects, including efforts to achieve rapid and effective implementation of FHIR.
As the next release of FHIR, which will include normative content, approaches, IHE domain committees are rapidly developing a growing number of IHE profiles that make use of FHIR to address a variety of use cases. Currently, 21 such IHE profiles are published on the HL7 FHIR Implementation Guide Registry. They range from Mobile Access to Health Documents and Mobile Alert Communication Management to Point-of-Care Medical Device Tracking and Remote Patient Monitoring.
IHE deployment organizations have also expanded testing of FHIR-based profiles at IHE Connectathons. At the IHE North America and IHE Europe Connectathons, held in January and April 2018, respectively, supervised testing was conducted for vendors implementing 10 of these recently published profiles.
These events also offer health IT stakeholders the opportunity to participate in educational and experimental implementation activities designed to expand understanding of the FHIR standard in the health IT community and prepare for its adoption. At the Devices on FHIR Plug-a-thon in January 2018, attendees gained hands-on experience with FHIR technologies and explored new use cases. FHIR was also an integral part of the mHealth Plug-a-thon during the IHE-Europe Connectathon in April 2018. Developers and vendors came together to learn about FHIR and test their applications in a collaborative, exploratory setting.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), whose mission is to foster innovation and industrial competition in the U.S., has long provided support for IHE’s efforts to advance standards-based interoperability. “IHE specifications including the various domain technical framework documents reference well-known standards and their respective development organizations such as HL7 and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE),” says John J. Garguilo, Computer Scientist, Group Lead, Systems Interoperability Group, Software and Systems Division, Information Technology Laboratory at NIST.
NIST tools have been critical to IHE’s implementation testing process and will likely play an important role in the adoption of HL7 FHIR. “NIST is committed to further development of intuitive ‘tools for building tools’ and enabling domain experts to use them directly with minimal or no support needed from NIST,” Garguilo adds. “Achievement of this goal will facilitate health IT interoperability through rapid creation of HL7 FHIR-based implementation guides, ‘automated’ development of test cases with real-world test data, leading to ‘automated’, expedited generation of domain-specific conformance test tools for national and local use.”
Through collaborations like this organizations like IHE, NIST, and HL7 will make available reliable, robust standards and tools that the healthcare world really needs to more rapidly advance the needle toward achieving improved interoperability.