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What Will FHIR Mean For Hospital Communications?

Finally, the era of modern web services has arrived to healthcare—and the next step is a doozy. If you haven’t heard much about FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) yet, you’re forgiven. It’s an emerging standard which promises a level of real-time web services integration and information exchange that has been attained in virtually every industry outside of healthcare. Because of the sensitivity of healthcare information and the rules that govern the use of it, primarily HIPAA, it’s not surprising that it’s taken this long to get to a modern web services based approach to integrating disparate healthcare IT systems. But finally, the major EMR/EHR vendors such as Cerner and Epic are supporting FHIR interfacing with their products.

So what is FHIR and what does it mean to your hospital or healthcare system? FHIR, an emerging standard for exchanging EHR and patient data, overcomes many of the limitations of traditional Healthcare Information Exchange protocols such as HL7, and allows IT teams and software companies like ours to leverage standard RESTful web services and integrate disparate healthcare IT systems. In laymen’s terms, that means greater opportunities for automation, communication, and collaboration between systems, solutions and tools.

At Telmediq Our interest in FHIR is what it means to healthcare communications, not only between providers, but also between patients and healthcare organizations.

Seven years ago, if you were to walk into a hospital, the state-of-the-art in healthcare communications consisted of physicians carrying pagers. These systems have been around for over 40 years and are typically one-way in nature, and extremely limited in capability, including the data they’re able to capture and share with other systems. Since that time, the business and consumer markets have evolved from the once-ubiquitous BlackBerry (remember them?) to iPhone and Android devices. Now, over 80% of physicians carry either an iPhone or an Android, but less than 30% of those physicians have a solution which allows them to communicate between their peers, other clinicians, and other systems in a secure, HIPAA-compliant manner. Why is this?

In recognition of the inevitable decline and eventual death of the pager, and the simultaneous rise of mobile messaging apps, there have been a large number of vendors bringing secure texting, or HIPAA-compliant messaging applications to the market. However, merely securing a communication channel does not make it suitable for application to a clinical environment. With true interoperability on the horizon, healthcare communication applications will need to offer a number of features beyond HIPAA-compliance to be truly effective in a modern healthcare environment:

Hospital Communications Must Be Structured

When two clinicians communicate, it’s almost always with respect to if, how, when, or why specific intervention or care should be delivered to a patient. By putting structure into such communications, any ambiguities are removed, important information is not forgotten, omitted or missed, and the speed of care delivery is increased. In order to capture meaningful information that can be transmitted and shared via FHIR, structured messages or pre-selected templates are essential.

Hospital Communications Must Be Intuitive

First of all, the communications platform needs to know the care team responsible for a particular patient. Secondly, some, but not all, of the resulting communications between healthcare providers should be documented against the patient record—'hoarding' all digital communications will become complex and unwieldy. A hospital communications platform that allows for automation of rules of what should (and should not) be entered as discoverable history against a patient chart is imperative.

Hospital Communications Must Be Cloud-Based

From the HL7 website: “Technically, FHIR is designed for the web; the resources are based on simple XML or JSON structures, with an http-based RESTful protocol where each resource has predictable URL. Where possible, open internet standards are used for data representation." FHIR is designed with the web in mind, so to fully leverage the opportunities that FHIR will provide in regards to data capture and cross-communication, local server-based solutions won’t cut it. Plus, as an emerging standard, there are bound to be necessary vendor updates and deployments; cloud providers will take care of FHIR upgrades, deployment, and compliance on their end, without burning through your IT resources or requiring laborious on-site server changes.

Ultimately, when executed correctly, FHIR will allow for a seamless plug and play integration between a communications platform and the patient record—providing a contextual, relevant, and easily searchable record of patient-centric communications, as well as the opportunity for communications platforms to pull data collected by disparate applications. This represents an enormous wealth of opportunity for healthcare communications solution providers as they develop new and intuitive ways to analyze, optimize and share the data from messages that pass through their applications every day.

Call or email us today to learn more about our integrated healthcare communications suite, and how we can put it to work for your hospital or health system.

blog, EMR, HIPAA, Mobile, Technology