Digital health standards might not have been the topic of many family Zoom calls, but it is going to become ever more important for us all in the months and years ahead.
Interoperability expert Graham Grieve said that the FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) standard was a means to empower patients. By enabling better data sharing with FHIR, patients will be able to improve their lives.
“What really makes a difference to people is not data but services, but data is a pre-condition to be able [to] provide those services,” he said.
Grieve is right. FHIR can be the change agent for patient-centred health.
There are increasing examples of how FHIR is underpinning useful healthcare services. Recent US legislation and enthusiasm from the vendor community provide further evidence of its importance to our interoperable future.
The global impact of FHIR is clear. In the UK, NHS Digital is making extensive use of the standard, and its standards framework says that all NHS digital, data and technology services should support FHIR-based APIs to enable the delivery of seamless care across organisational boundaries.
Canada has an active FHIR implementation community and several examples of exciting FHIR projects. In Germany, the Medication Plan PLUS project makes consistent use of standards to underpin a person-centred personal medication plan. Switzerland and Belgium are making advances with FHIR also. Connectathons and DevDays are happening at FHIR events across the world.
From an industry perspective, FHIR is spreading rapidly. So how exactly will FHIR benefit patients?
Setting out the benefits to patients
The chief benefit held up for patients is the control that it can give them over their personal data. FHIR means that patients can authorise access to this health data to any application.
Devices such as the Apple Watch and Fitbits can use FHIR to share data between apps, helping to create a generation of fitness fans who embrace the ‘quantified self’.
FHIR supports this, being designed to allow data to be read, written and queried. As our own guide to FHIR use cases notes, this means data from a device or personal health record can be integrated with a larger health record, and quickly and easily.
With FHIR, patients will be able to manage their own care and access their own records. FHIR will enable the most relevant data to be shared with healthcare providers to help them provide more relevant care.
We have seen this ourselves with our work with Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. The mental health trust provider is delivering home-based care through data sharing between patients and the hospital. Readings that service users take at their own home, such as blood pressure, glucose levels, 02 saturations etc, are automatically entered into their records in the EPR. Abnormal reading trigger alerts to clinicians, prompting responsive care.
Similar benefits can be felt now by caregivers of people with multiple conditions. They often have to interact with multiple services. FHIR helps them share data with service providers, saving them from having to repeat information and empowering them with a single access point to crucial health information.
Growing amounts of health data adds to the importance of FHIR
Meanwhile, the growth in patient-generated health data from wearables and other devices has created some concerns. Thirty-five percent of younger healthcare professionals are overwhelmed by digital patient data, or are unsure about how to use patient data and analytics to inform care, according to one survey.
The impact of this on clinical practice should not be underestimated – data overload is real. It could grow even more.
A few years ago, it was noted that approximately 30% of the world’s data volume is being generated by the healthcare industry.
Now Covid-19 will have added extra dynamite to the data explosion. The rapid update of digital solutions in healthcare has generated even more data points.
That’s not all. The world is getting older. And as we get older, more things go wrong. it is expected the rate of multi-morbidity will increase. The proportion of the UK population with four diseases is forecast to almost double between 2015 and 2035.
The need for flexible data sharing will grow in the future. As we age and contract numerous diseases, there are likely to be more specialist clinical devices on the market. These will generate even more data for professionals to monitor, who by that time will almost certainly have to rely on intelligent AI-driven agents to help.
This is where FHIR will come into its own. People will be generating huge amounts of data. It will need the flexibility of FHIR to help manage the fountain of knowledge, and harness it in systems that are built around the needs of clinician and patient alike.
We need to make sure that data is actionable, relevant and not excessive, otherwise we risk missing the opportunity that FHIR is providing.
Work with the experts as the world embraces FHIR
To help get this right means using the right standards, and working with people who know how to manage growing amounts of health data. Talk to us. We want to hear your hopes, and your fears.
From working with some of the world’s leading hospitals, leveraging our experience as part of a global technology provider, and using our experience of the latest data-driven innovations in healthcare, Enovacom can help you face the future.
Get in touch to find out how we can help.