Playing with FHIR®

“A standard is not used because we created it. It is a standard because people use it.”  This familiar quote from Dr. Chuck Jaffe, CEO of HL7, could have been the motto for the inaugural FHIR Applications Roundtable Meeting held last week at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

As so many of the smiling attendees attested, this was indeed a very different kind of meeting.

The premise was to get an indication of how widespread FHIR usage already is, and the answer was – more than we could have ever imagined.  Although FHIR is currently designated as a Standard for Trial Use (STU), it has already captivated the development community drawn to its advanced, elegant technology platform.  The Roundtable, like most FHIR events, cements the impression that interoperability through FHIR is not a pipe dream, but a burgeoning reality.

The meeting opened with a rousing talk from Dr. Shafiq Rhab on “FHIR as Enabler” describing how its already transforming communications and processes at Hackensack University Medical Center.  We then transitioned into the meat of the meeting – a series of thirty-four 15-minute speed-dating sessions (including two of the recently announced winners of an ONC challenge grant) with applications and tools covering development and testing environments, patient and provider-facing apps using FHIR, genomics, Clinical Decision Support, and many more application areas.  We also learned how FHIR is being supported by major technology providers such as Microsoft, Computer Associates, and Lockheed Martin and academic institutions including Harvard, Duke, University of California San Francisco and Georgia Tech.

What was most impressive was that this roundtable only scratched the surface of what’s really going on.  Many attendees commented on other activities already underway – several in the audience who learned about the meeting after the submission deadline spoke of their own apps and their desire to get their chance on the podium.

The innovative meeting format was continually fast-moving, dynamic, and fun for all with a palpable sense of energy and community, and the invigorating appeal of a pep rally before the big homecoming game.

My read of the overall sentiment after the meeting was “FHIR is real, FHIR is already in widespread use, FHIR offers an unprecedented opportunity to transform the way we access and use healthcare information. More FHIR!”

A quick poll indicated unanimous support for repeating the whole experience, and plans are already underway to hold the next Roundtable at Duke University in Durham, NC in March 2017.

We expect to see a lot more progress by then since it’s now clear that FHIR is catching on like, well, fire.

FHIR® is the registered trademark of HL7 and is used with the permission of HL7.

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